Tectonic control of Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge revealed by a buried canyon in Southern Tibet

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Science  21 Nov 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6212, pp. 978-981
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259041

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The Himalayan mountains are dissected by some of the deepest and most impressive gorges on Earth. Constraining the interplay between river incision and rock uplift is important for understanding tectonic deformation in this region. We report here the discovery of a deeply incised canyon of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, at the eastern end of the Himalaya, which is now buried under more than 500 meters of sediments. By reconstructing the former valley bottom and dating sediments at the base of the valley fill, we show that steepening of the Tsangpo Gorge started at about 2 million to 2.5 million years ago as a consequence of an increase in rock uplift rates. The high erosion rates within the gorge are therefore a direct consequence of rapid rock uplift.

Tibetan gorge avoids a tectonic aneurysm

Rapid tectonic uplift was responsible for the immense Tsangpo Gorge on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau 2.5 million years ago. Wang et al. found a buried canyon upstream from the gorge along the Yarlung Tsangpo River that began filling with sediments after sudden uplift. Drill cores of the buried canyon sediments show the same river gradient as found downstream of the gorge. The constant river gradient strongly suggests a rapid uplift event created the gorge, rather than river incision as previously believed.

Science, this issue p. 978

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