Massive Collision Formed The Tibetan Plateau

25 February, 2013 - The Tibetan Plateau, which began construction over 100 million years ago, is the largest single land feature on our planet.

Stretching 3500 km long and 1500 km wide, across the boundaries of several countries, the land includes the highest peaks on Earth.

It's not only the largest, highest area in the world. It may be also the largest and highest in all of geologic history.

This region was formed through the action of plate tectonics, the movements of plates that compose our planet's crust.

Tibet's desolate plateau crosses the Tanggula Mountains about 6000 meters up

Where these plates meet, new mountain ranges and deep ocean trenches are built. About 50 million years ago, the Indian plate began to collide with the Eurasian plate and this massive collision compressed Earth's crust and formed the Tibetan Plateau.

A series of geological events that formed the Tibet Plateau, continue its work even today.

However, the mechanisms responsible for both the topographic uplift and the crustal thickening still remain controversial.

According to Xiaodian Jiang and colleagues at the Dept. of Marine Geology, Ocean University of China, who have analyzed high-resolution seismic reflection data from the West Kunlun Range Front at the northwestern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, crustal structures there are dominated by nappes of upper crustal rocks.

Horizontal shortening in the upper crust by brittle folding and faulting correlates positively with crustal thickening, an increase in Moho depth, and the topography.

Their work thus suggests that upper crustal shortening is a chief factor for topographic uplift and crustal thickening at the northwestern margin of the Tibetan Plateau.

Click on image to enlarge

Tibetan Plateau. Credits: Jonas Bendiksen

The researchers believe this mechanism might have played a major role in crustal thickening and proto-plateau uplift during the early stage of continental and terrane collisions in Tibet, which laid the condition for other mechanisms, such as crustal flow, to kick in during late Cenozoic plateau propagation.

This mechanism could have played a major role in crustal thickening and proto-plateau uplift during the early stage of continental and terrane collisions in Tibet, which laid the condition for other mechanisms, such as crustal flow, to kick in during late Cenozoic plateau propagation, scientists explain in their paper


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