Geologic Evolution of Northern Tibet: Results of an Expedition to Ulugh Muztagh

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Science  16 Jan 1987:
Vol. 235, Issue 4786, pp. 299-305
DOI: 10.1126/science.235.4786.299


A reconnaissance expedition across the northern margin of the Tibetan plateau revealed evidence of a late Cenozoic northward progression of the locus of crustal shortening and, therefore, of a northward growth of the area encompassed by the plateau. Active reverse faults crop out at the foot of the Altyn Tagh, on the northern edge of the plateau, and at the bases of several ranges within the Altyn Tagh and Kunlun, where the elevations of the neighboring basins are less than 4000 meters. Farther south, where elevations are higher, there was no evidence of recent faulting, but late Cenozoic rock in the Ayak Kum Köl basin has been strongly folded. South of this basin, Ulugh Muztagh, apparently the highest mountain in the eastern Kunlun, is underlain by late Miocene, tourmaline-bearing and two-mica granite. These rocks suggest that thickening of continental crust had begun in this area by late Miocene time. Overlying quartz-sanidine welded tuffs of Pliocene age imply that uplift and erosion occurred between Miocene and Pliocene time, but with little subsequent erosion. In addition, we found an east-west trending belt of mafic and ultramafic rock that probably marks a suture of a crustal fragment with southern Asia in Triassic or more recent time.