skip to main content

Title: Accommodation of India–Asia convergence via strike-slip faulting and block rotation in the Qilian Shan fold–thrust belt, northern margin of the Tibetan Plateau
Existing models of intracontinental deformation have focused on plate-like rigid body motion v. viscous-flow-like distributed deformation. To elucidate how plate convergence is accommodated by intracontinental strike-slip faulting and block rotation within a fold–thrust belt, we examine the Cenozoic structural framework of the central Qilian Shan of northeastern Tibet, where the NW-striking, right-slip Elashan and Riyueshan faults terminate at the WNW-striking, left-slip Haiyuan and Kunlun faults. Field- and satellite-based observations of discrete right-slip fault segments, releasing bends, horsetail termination splays and off-fault normal faulting suggest that the right-slip faults accommodate block rotation and distributed west–east crustal stretching between the Haiyuan and Kunlun faults. Luminescence dating of offset terrace risers along the Riyueshan fault yields a Quaternary slip rate of c. 1.1 mm a −1 , which is similar to previous estimates. By integrating our results with regional deformation constraints, we propose that the pattern of Cenozoic deformation in northeastern Tibet is compatible with west–east crustal stretching/lateral displacement, non-rigid off-fault deformation and broad clockwise rotation and bookshelf faulting, which together accommodate NE–SW India–Asia convergence. In this model, the faults represent strain localization that approximates continuum deformation during regional clockwise lithospheric flow against the rigid Eurasian continent. Supplementary material: Luminescence dating procedures and protocols is more » available at Thematic collection: This article is part of the Fold-and-thrust belts and associated basins collection available at: « less
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1914501 1914503
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Journal of the Geological Society
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. ABSTRACT New paleoseismic trenching indicates late Quaternary oblique right-lateral slip on the Leech River fault, southern Vancouver Island, Canada, and constrains permanent forearc deformation in northern Cascadia. A south-to-north reduction in northward Global Navigation Satellite System velocities and seismicity across the Olympic Mountains, Strait of Juan de Fuca (JDF), and the southern Strait of Georgia, has been used as evidence for permanent north–south crustal shortening via thrust faulting between a northward migrating southern forearc and rigid northern backstop in southwestern Canada. However, previous paleoseismic studies indicating late Quaternary oblique right-lateral slip on west-northwest-striking forearc faults north of the Olympic Mountains and in the southern Strait of Georgia are more consistent with forearc deformation models that invoke oroclinal bending and(or) westward extrusion of the Olympic Mountains. To help evaluate strain further north across the Strait of JDF, we present the results from two new paleoseismic trenches excavated across the Leech River fault. In the easternmost Good Hope trench, we document a vertical fault zone and a broad anticline deforming glacial till. Comparison of till clast orientations in faulted and undeformed glacial till shows evidence for postdeposition faulted till clast rotation, indicating strike-slip shear. The orientation of opening mode fissuring during surfacemore »rupture is consistent with right-lateral slip and the published regional SHmax directions. Vertical separation and the formation of scarp-derived colluvium along one fault also indicate a dip-slip component. Radiocarbon charcoal dating within offset glacial till and scarp-derived colluvium suggest a single surface rupturing earthquake at 9.4±3.4  ka. The oblique right-lateral slip sense inferred in the Good Hope trench is consistent with slip kinematics observed on other regional west-northwest-striking faults and indicates that these structures do not accommodate significant north–south shortening via thrust faulting.« less
  2. Abstract The spatial distribution and kinematics of intracontinental deformation provide insight into the dominant mode of continental tectonics: rigid-body motion versus continuum flow. The discrete San Andreas fault defines the western North America plate boundary, but transtensional deformation is distributed hundreds of kilometers eastward across the Walker Lane–Basin and Range provinces. In particular, distributed Basin and Range extension has been encroaching westward onto the relatively stable Sierra Nevada block since the Miocene, but the timing and style of distributed deformation overprinting the stable Sierra Nevada crust remains poorly resolved. Here we bracket the timing, magnitude, and kinematics of overprinting Walker Lane and Basin and Range deformation in the Pine Nut Mountains, Nevada (USA), which are the westernmost structural and topographic expression of the Basin and Range, with new geologic mapping and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology. Structural mapping suggests that north-striking normal faults developed during the initiation of Basin and Range extension and were later reactivated as northeast-striking oblique-slip faults following the onset of Walker Lane transtensional deformation. Conformable volcanic and sedimentary rocks, with new ages spanning ca. 14.2 Ma to 6.8 Ma, were tilted 30°–36° northwest by east-dipping normal faults. This relationship demonstrates that dip-slip deformation initiated after ca. 6.8 Ma. Amore »retrodeformed cross section across the range suggests that the range experienced 14% extension. Subsequently, Walker Lane transtension initiated, and clockwise rotation of the Carson domain may have been accommodated by northeast-striking left-slip faults. Our work better defines strain patterns at the western extent of the Basin and Range province across an approximately 150-km-long east-west transect that reveals domains of low strain (∼15%) in the Carson Range–Pine Nut Mountains and Gillis Range surrounding high-magnitude extension (∼150%–180%) in the Singatse and Wassuk Ranges. There is no evidence for irregular crustal thickness variations across this same transect—either in the Mesozoic, prior to extension, or today—which suggests that strain must be accommodated differently at decoupled crustal levels to result in smooth, homogenous crustal thickness values despite the significantly heterogeneous extensional evolution. This example across an ∼150 km transect demonstrates that the use of upper-crust extension estimates to constrain pre-extension crustal thickness, assuming pure shear as commonly done for the Mesozoic Nevadaplano orogenic plateau, may not be reliable.« less
  3. The growth history and formation mechanisms of the Cenozoic Tibetan Plateau are the subject of an intense debate with important implications for understanding the kinematics and dynamics of large-scale intracontinental deformation. Better constraints on the uplift and deformation history across the northern plateau are necessary to address how the Tibetan Plateau was constructed. To this end, we present updated field observations coupled with low-temperature thermochronology from the Qaidam basin in the south to the Qilian Shan foreland in the north. Our results show that the region experienced a late Mesozoic cooling event that is interpreted as a result of tectonic deformation prior to the India-Asia collision. Our results also reveal the onset of renewed cooling in the Eocene in the Qilian Shan region along the northern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, which we interpret to indicate the timing of initial thrusting and plateau formation along the plateau margin. The interpreted Eocene thrusting in the Qilian Shan predates Cenozoic thrust belts to the south (e.g., the Eastern Kunlun Range), which supports out-of-sequence rather than northward-migrating thrust belt development. The early Cenozoic deformation exploited the south-dipping early Paleozoic Qilian suture zone as indicated by our field mapping and the existing geophysical data.more »In the Miocene, strike-slip faulting was initiated along segments of the older Paleozoic suture zones in northern Tibet, which led to the development of the Kunlun and Haiyuan left-slip transpressional systems. Late Miocene deformation and uplift of the Hexi corridor and Longshou Shan directly north of the Qilian Shan thrust belt represent the most recent phase of outward plateau growth.« less
  4. The Tibetan Plateau, the largest highland on Earth, formed due to the collision of India-Asia over the past 50−60 m.y., and the evolution of the Tibetan Plateau impacts our knowledge of continental tectonics. Examination of the northernmost margin of the Tibetan Plateau is key to unravelling the deformation mechanisms acting in northern Tibet. The left-slip Altyn Tagh fault system defines the northwest margin of the Tibetan Plateau, separating the Western and Eastern Kunlun Ranges in the southwest. Both Cenozoic and pre-Cenozoic crustal deformation events at this junction between the Altyn Tagh and Kunlun Ranges were responsible for the construction of northwestern Tibet, yet the relative contribution of each phase remains unconstrained. The western domain of the Eastern Kunlun Range is marked by active NE-trending, left-slip deformation of the Altyn Tagh fault and an E-striking Cenozoic thrust system developed in response India-Asia collision. To better constrain the Paleozoic Altyn Tagh and Kunlun orogens and establish the Cenozoic structural framework, we conducted an integrated investigation involving detailed geologic mapping (∼1:50,000 scale), U-Pb zircon geochronology, and synthesis of existing data sets across northwestern Tibet. Our new zircon analyses from Paleoproterozoic−Cretaceous strata constrain stratigraphic age and sediment provenance and highlight Proterozoic−Paleozoic arc activity. Wemore »propose a tectonic model for the Neoproterozoic−Mesozoic evolution of northwestern Tibet wherein restoration of an ∼56-km-long balanced cross section across the western domain of the Eastern Kunlun suggests that Cenozoic minimum shortening strain was ∼30% (∼24 km shortening). Field evidence suggests this shortening commenced after ca. 25−20 Ma, which yields an average long-term shortening rate of 1.2−0.9 mm yr−1 and strain rates of 4.7 × 10−16 s−1 to 2.3 × 10−16 s−1. Geometric considerations demonstrate that this contractional deformation did not significantly contribute to left-slip offset on the Altyn Tagh fault, which has ∼10 mm/yr slip rates.« less
  5. The present topography of the northern Tibetan Plateau is characterized by the northwest-trending Eastern Kunlun Range, Qaidam Basin, and Qilian Shan, which figure importantly into the evolution and mechanism of Tibetan plateau development during Cenozoic Indo-Asian convergence. Understanding the Cenozoic deformation history and the source-to-sink relationship through time has significant implications for deciphering the growth history of the northern Tibetan Plateau. Despite decades of study, the timing, pattern, and mechanisms of deformation across the northern Tibetan Plateau are still vigorously debated. The North Qaidam thrust belt, located between the Qaidam Basin and Qilian Shan thrust belt, provides a valuable record of Cenozoic deformation in the northern Tibetan Plateau. Here, we present the results of new geologic mapping, structural and sedimentology analysis, and apatite fission track thermochronology to constrain the Cenozoic evolution history and reconstruct the paleogeomorphology of the eastern domain of the North Qaidam thrust belt and its foreland, the Wulan Basin. Our analyses reveal the North Qaidam thrust belt experienced multi-phase exhumation since the Cretaceous. A period of Eocene localized thrust-related uplift of the North Qaidam thrust belt initiated shortly after India-Asia collision, and lower erosion rates in the Oligocene allowed the thrust belt to expand along-strike eastward. Localmore »uplift shed sediments to the southwest, directly into the Qaidam Basin. Reactivation of the proximal thrust faults and initiation of the northwest-striking right-slip Elashan fault at ca. 15−10 Ma drove the final accelerated mid-Miocene cooling and denudation to the surface. This phase of deformation established the overall framework morphology of the northeastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, including the overall structure of the basins and ranges.« less