The Central Andean and Himalayan orogenic belts provide an ideal natural experiment to test the potential role of climate in controlling orogeny. Approximately equal in age and along-strike length, both orogenic wedges are forming in plate-marginal convergent tectonic settings: The Andes in a retroarc setting and the Himalaya in a collisional setting against the Tibetan backstop. The Central Andes orogenic wedge is volumetrically and aerially nearly two times larger than the Himalayan orogenic wedge, despite the Himalaya having accommodated two to three times more tectonic shortening. The Himalaya exports at least four times more sediment owing to much greater erosion rates as signified by widespread Cenozoic metamorphic rocks and very young (<10 Ma) low-temperature thermochronologic ages. The Central Andes are thermochronologically old (mostly >20 Ma), have no exposures of Cenozoic metamorphic rocks, and are mantled by volcanic and sedimentary rocks, attesting to shallow, slow erosion. We conclude that greater intensity of the Indian Monsoon relative to the South American Monsoon since Oligocene time accounts for the differences in orogen size and characteristics. When viewed as an orogenic wedge that has developed largely after formation of the Tibetan orogenic collage, the Himalaya is neither the largest nor hottest among Earth's orogens.
- climate vs. tectonics
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Space and Planetary Science
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)