Cenozoic tectonic history of the Himachal Himalaya (northwestern India) and its constraints on the formation mechanism of the Himalayan orogen

A. Alexander G. Webb, An Yin, T. Mark Harrison, Julien Célérier, George E. Gehrels, Craig E. Manning, Marty Grove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


A central debate for the evolution of the Himalayan orogen is how the Greater Himalayan Crystalline complex in its core was emplaced during the Cenozoic Indo-Asian collision. Addressing this problem requires knowledge of the structural relationship between the South Tibet detachment fault (STD) and the Main Central thrust (MCT) that bound these rocks from above and below. The fault relationship is exposed in the Himachal Himalaya of northwestern India, where they merge in their updip direction and form a frontal branch line that has been warped by subsequent top-to-the-southwest shear deformation. To elucidate how the two major crustal-scale faults evolved in the western Himalaya, we conducted integrated geologic research employing field mapping, pressure-temperature (P-T) analyses, U-Pb zircon geochronology, trace and rare earth element (REE) geochemistry, and thermochronology. Our field study reveals complex geometric relationships among major thrusts with large-magnitude shortening within each thrust sheet. Three successive stages of top-to-the-southwest thrust development are recognized: (1) imbricate stack development, (2) translation of large thrust sheets along low-angle detachments and backthrusting along the STD, and (3) development of duplex systems via underplating. This kinematic process can be quantified by our new analytical data: (1) P-T determinations show 7-9 kbar and 450-630 °C conditions across the STD. The lack of a metamorphic discontinuity across the fault is consistent with a backthrust interpretation. (2) U-Pb zircon geochronology yields ca. 830 Ma and ca. 500 Ma ages of granitoids in the MCT hanging wall, ca. 1.85 Ga ages of granitic gneisses in both the MCT hanging wall and footwall, and 8-6 Ma ages of granitic pegmatites in the MCT footwall. These ages help define regional chronostratigraphy, and the youngest ages reveal a previously unknown intrusion phase. (3) Trace element and REE geochemistry of 1.85 Ga, 830 Ma, and 500 Ma granitoids are characteristic of remelted continental crust, constraining the protolith tectonic setting. (4) U-Pb geochronology of detrital zircon reveals that siliciclastic sedimentary sequences above the STD, below the MCT, and between these two faults have similar age spectra with Neoproterozoic youngest age peaks. This result implies that the STD and MCT each duplicated the same stratigraphic section. (5) Th-Pb geochronology of monazite included in MCT hanging-wall garnet yields Paleozoic and early Tertiary ages, indicating Paleozoic and early Tertiary metamorphism in these rocks. (6) The 40Ar/39Ar thermochronology of the K-feldspar from southern MCT hangingwall rocks evinces cooling below 220-230 °C ca. 13-19 Ma or later, constraining the thrust development history. We use these results to derive a tectonic model of crustal shortening across the Himachal Himalaya involving early thickening, tectonic wedging emplacement of the Greater Himalayan Crystalline complex between the MCT and STD, and continued growth of the Himalayan thrust wedge by accretion of thrust horses from the Indian footwall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1013-1061
Number of pages49
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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