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An early unroofing in northeastern Tibet? Constraints from40Ar/39Ar thermochronology on granitoids from the eastern Kunlun range (Qianghai, NW China)

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0012-821x(99)00133-8
  • Thermochronology
  • Ar-40/Ar-39
  • Kunlun Range
  • India-Asia Collision
  • Earth Science


Abstract In order to better constrain the mechanisms accommodating the India-Asia collision along the whole Kunlun range (northern Tibet), which is essential to better understand the evolution of the entire deformations area, a 40Ar/ 39Ar thermochronological study has been carried out on a suite of granitoids collected in the vicinity of Golmud (Eastern Kunlun range). Biotite and K-feldspar have been analysed and the cooling histories of the latter have been modelled. The ranges of 40Ar/ 39Ar data (Bt = 128–257 Ma; Kf = 102–228 Ma) are similar to previous Rb/Sr and K/Ar data, indicating both a middle-Paleozoic unit and a Mesozoic unit, including a Triassic series and a Jurassic-Cretaceous series. This suggests that the two geological units previously reported in the Western Kunlun are also present in the eastern part of the range, suggesting that Eastern and Western Kunlun ranges might have been left laterally offset by as much as 500 km along a strike-slip fault presently parallel to the Altyn-Tagh fault. The cooling histories based upon K-feldspar modelling show that samples from the southern part of the range recorded an important cooling event (9–15°/Myr) around 30 Ma, which is thought to reflect an increasing rate of denudation related to the tectonic activity in this area; minimum denudation rates of 0.2–0.3 km/Ma have been estimated. In contrast, samples from the northern part of the range did not record any variation in their cooling history. This heterogeneous denudation across the range is thought to be related to ramp stacking and normal faulting with associated uplift mainly affecting the southern part of the range, suggesting that the Eastern Kunlun underwent an important crustal thickening period 30 Ma ago. This crustal thickening event is suggested to be related to the motion along the great Asian strike-slip faults in a way which remains problematic but possibly associated to the Cenozoic propagation of the Altyn-Tagh fault. Finally, unroofing in the Eastern Kunlun range appears to predate that in the Western Kunlun range where it is suggested to have started around 20 Ma ago. This diachronous denudation could be related to a higher denudation rate in Western Kunlun range and it is thus highly probable that the important unroofing event outlined around 20 Ma ago in the Western Kunlun has also affected the eastern part of the range, even though the signature is not available at the moment.

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