Post-orogenic evolution of the Dabie-Shan, eastern China, from (U-Th)/He and fission-track thermochronology

Peter W. Reiners, Zuyi Zhou, Todd A. Ehlers, Changhai Xu, Mark T. Brandon, Raymond A. Donelick, Stefan Nicolescu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


The Dabie Shan of eastern China is a ∼200 kilometers wide mountain range with nearly 2 kilometers of relief and is an archetype of deep ultrahigh-pressure metamorphic rock exhumation. Despite its regional and petrologic importance, little is known about the low-temperature and post-orogenic evolution of the Dabie Shan. Here we present apatite and zircon (U-Th)/He (AHe and ZHe, respectively) and apatite fission-track (AFT) cooling ages from the Dabie Shan that constrain the patterns and history of exhumation over the last ∼115 myr. On the scale of the whole orogen, ZHe and AHe ages are inversely correlated with mean elevation and are systematically younger in the core of the range. These cooling ages were converted to exhumation rates assuming steady-state erosion and accounting for topographic effects. These results indicate that, since the Eocene, flanks of the range have eroded at rates as low as 0.02 km/myr, while the range core has eroded at about 0.06 km/myr. Even in the core of the range, these recent exhumation rates are at least 10 to 20 times slower than those estimated for the initial stages of exhumation in the Triassic-Jurassic. In a 1.4 kilometer vertical transect in the core of the range, all ages are positively correlated with elevation, with ZHe ages increasing from 76 to 112 Ma, AFT from 44 to 70 Ma, and AHe from 24 to 43 Ma. We present a simple model for topographic correction of thermochronometric ages in vertical transects, using the admittance ratio (ratio of isotherm relief to topographic relief). Applied to the AHe age-elevation relationship, this yields Tertiary exhumation rates of 0.05 to 0.07 km/myr in the core of the Dabie Shan, in good agreement with regional exhumation rate patterns. Finally, age-elevation relationships for all three chronometers in the vertical transect are consistent with a constant exhumation rate of 0.06 ± 0.01 km/myr since the Cretaceous, with a possible modest increase in exhumation rates (as high as 0.2 km/myr) between 80 to 40 Ma. These data show no evidence for significant variations in exhumation rates over the last ∼115 myr, as might be expected for decay of old topography or tectonic reactivation of old structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-518
Number of pages30
JournalAmerican Journal of Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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