Understanding the geologic evolution of Northern Tibetan Plateau with multiple thermochronometers

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The early onset of deformation following the India-Asia collision, Neogene expanse of uplift, and complex systems that comprise strike-slip faults, thrust faults, and intermontane basins characterize the Cenozoic tectonism of Northern Tibetan Plateau and raise two prominent questions in orogenic geodynamics: 1) What mechanism(s) control(s) the transfer of stress related to the India-Asia collision across the distance of >2000 km; and 2) Why the development of high topography was delayed in the Northern Tibetan Plateau and what does it reveal about how the internal forces and external boundary conditions evolved. To address these two questions, we reconstruct a holistic spatial-temporal deformation history of the Northern Tibetan Plateau by using a range of thermochronometers, with closure temperature spanning from 350 °C to ~60–70 °C. This multi-thermochronometer study reveals three stages of faulting related cooling, in the early Cretaceous, in Paleocene-Eocene and in middle-late Miocene. We observe that Paleocene-Eocene deformation was spatially restricted and mostly occurred on reactivated Cretaceous structures, indicating a control of pre-existing weakness on early Cenozoic deformation. Extensive Neogene deformation contrasts with restricted Paleocene-Eocene deformation and relatively quiescent shortening during the Oligocene-early Miocene, which implies a change in the regional tectonics regime. Global plate reconstructions show that this tectonic reorganization is coeval with an increase in Pacific-Asia plate convergence rates. We argue that this change in regional tectonics is a result of increasing constrictive environment of the eastern plate boundary, which changed the behavior of the Altyn Tagh fault—the boundary fault of Northern Tibetan Plateau, causing it to change from feeding slip into structures out of the plateau to feeding slip into structures at plateau margins.

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Gondwana Research

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