Cretaceous-Tertiary shortening, basin development, and volcanism in central Tibet

Paul Kapp, An Yin, T. Mark Harrison, Lin Ding

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The geologic map pattern of the Qiangtang terrane in central Tibet defines a >600-km-long and up to 270-km-wide east-plunging structural culmination. It is characterized by early Mesozoic blueschist-bearing mélange and upper Paleozoic strata in the core and mainly Triassic-Jurassic strata along the limbs. In the western Qiangtang terrane (∼84°E), the culmination is unconformably overlain by weakly deformed mid-Cretaceous volcanic flows and tuffs. Along the Bangong suture to the south (32°N, 84°E), mid-Cretaceous nonmarine red beds and volcanic rocks lie unconformably on Jurassic suture zone rocks. These relationships demonstrate that west-central Tibet was above sea level during the mid-Cretaceous and experienced significant denudation prior to mid-Cretaceous time. Growth of the Qiangtang culmination is inferred to have initiated during southward emplacement of a thrust sheet of early Mesozoic mélange and upper Paleozoic strata during the Early Cretaceous Lhasa-Qiangtang collision. The north-south width of the inferred thrust sheet provides a minimum slip estimate of ∼150 km at 84°E, decreasing eastward to ∼70 km at 87°E. Paleogene deformation in the Qiangtang terrane is characterized by widely distributed, mainly north-dipping thrust faults that cut Eocene-Oligocene red beds and volcanic rocks in their footwall. Along the Bangong suture, the north-dipping Shiquanhe-Gaize-Amdo thrust system cuts 64 and 43 m.y. old volcanic tuffs in its footwall and accommodated >40 km of post-mid-Cretaceous shortening. The Tertiary south-dipping Gaize-Siting Co backthrust bounds the southern margin of the Bangong suture and marks the northernmost limit of mid-Cretaceous marine strata in central Tibet. Cretaceous deformation and denudation in central Tibet is attributed to northward underthrusting of the Lhasa terrane beneath the Qiangtang terrane along the Bangong suture. This model implies that (1) Cretaceous strata along the Bangong suture and in the northern Lhasa terrane were deposited in a flexural foreland basin system and derived at least in part from the Qiangtang terrane, and (2) the central Tibetan crust was thickened substantially prior to the Indo-Asian collision. Although its magnitude is poorly known, Tertiary shortening in the Qiangtang terrane is more prevalent than in the Lhasa terrane; this difference may be attributed to the presence of underthrust mélange in the deeper central Tibetan crust, which would have made it weaker than the Lhasa terrane during the Indo-Asian collision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)865-878
Number of pages14
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • Continental collision
  • Plateau formation
  • Shortening
  • Suture
  • Tibet
  • Underthrusting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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