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Volume 31 Issue 5
Oct.  2020
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Tianyi Shen, Guocan Wang. Detrital Zircon Fission-Track Thermochronology of the Present-Day River Drainage System in the Mt. Kailas Area, Western Tibet: Implications for Multiple Cooling Stages of the Gangdese Magmatic Arc. Journal of Earth Science, 2020, 31(5): 896-904. doi: 10.1007/s12583-020-1285-y
Citation: Tianyi Shen, Guocan Wang. Detrital Zircon Fission-Track Thermochronology of the Present-Day River Drainage System in the Mt. Kailas Area, Western Tibet: Implications for Multiple Cooling Stages of the Gangdese Magmatic Arc. Journal of Earth Science, 2020, 31(5): 896-904. doi: 10.1007/s12583-020-1285-y

Detrital Zircon Fission-Track Thermochronology of the Present-Day River Drainage System in the Mt. Kailas Area, Western Tibet: Implications for Multiple Cooling Stages of the Gangdese Magmatic Arc

doi: 10.1007/s12583-020-1285-y
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  • It is still controversial how the high elevation of the Tibetan Plateau established after the Indian-Asian collision during the Cenozoic. The timing of Gangdese magmatic arc exhumation and uplift history would provide useful message for this disputation. We present six zircon fission-track (ZFT) data from modern river sand in the western Tibet,around the Mt. Kailas,to decipher the long-term exhumation histories of the Gangdese magmatic arc. The data suggests that all the Gangdese magmatic arc rocks experienced rapid cooling during the Eocene (~46-35 Ma) and Oligocene (~31-26 Ma). The movement along the north-south trending extensional fault and dextral strike-slip Karakoram fault induced the adjacent rocks exhumed at the Middle Miocene (~15-16 Ma) and Late Miocene (~10-11 Ma),respectively. According to the minimum and central AFT ages for each sample,the fastest exhumation rate is about 0.4 km/Ma,with average long-term exhumation rates on the order of~0.3 km/Ma since the Oligocene. This result supports the outward growth model for plateau forming,indicating the southern margin of the Gangdese magmatic arc attained high elevation after the Oligocene.
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Detrital Zircon Fission-Track Thermochronology of the Present-Day River Drainage System in the Mt. Kailas Area, Western Tibet: Implications for Multiple Cooling Stages of the Gangdese Magmatic Arc

doi: 10.1007/s12583-020-1285-y

Abstract: It is still controversial how the high elevation of the Tibetan Plateau established after the Indian-Asian collision during the Cenozoic. The timing of Gangdese magmatic arc exhumation and uplift history would provide useful message for this disputation. We present six zircon fission-track (ZFT) data from modern river sand in the western Tibet,around the Mt. Kailas,to decipher the long-term exhumation histories of the Gangdese magmatic arc. The data suggests that all the Gangdese magmatic arc rocks experienced rapid cooling during the Eocene (~46-35 Ma) and Oligocene (~31-26 Ma). The movement along the north-south trending extensional fault and dextral strike-slip Karakoram fault induced the adjacent rocks exhumed at the Middle Miocene (~15-16 Ma) and Late Miocene (~10-11 Ma),respectively. According to the minimum and central AFT ages for each sample,the fastest exhumation rate is about 0.4 km/Ma,with average long-term exhumation rates on the order of~0.3 km/Ma since the Oligocene. This result supports the outward growth model for plateau forming,indicating the southern margin of the Gangdese magmatic arc attained high elevation after the Oligocene.

Tianyi Shen, Guocan Wang. Detrital Zircon Fission-Track Thermochronology of the Present-Day River Drainage System in the Mt. Kailas Area, Western Tibet: Implications for Multiple Cooling Stages of the Gangdese Magmatic Arc. Journal of Earth Science, 2020, 31(5): 896-904. doi: 10.1007/s12583-020-1285-y
Citation: Tianyi Shen, Guocan Wang. Detrital Zircon Fission-Track Thermochronology of the Present-Day River Drainage System in the Mt. Kailas Area, Western Tibet: Implications for Multiple Cooling Stages of the Gangdese Magmatic Arc. Journal of Earth Science, 2020, 31(5): 896-904. doi: 10.1007/s12583-020-1285-y
  • The exhumation process of the Gangdese magmatic arc, southern Tibet, is indispensable for understanding the uplift processes of the Tibetan Plateau, and has been widely discussed for many years (Ge et al., 2017; Li et al., 2016, 2015; Tremblay et al., 2015; Carrapa et al., 2014; Dai et al., 2013; Rohrmann et al., 2012; Copeland et al., 1995). During these years, many studies have suggested that the Tibetan Plateau rose and expanded from Central Tibet since the Eocene (e.g., Wang et al., 2014, 2008; Tapponnier, 2011). Many low temperature thermochronological data in the hinterland of the plateau supported this hypothesis (e.g., Haider et al., 2013; Rohrmann et al., 2012; Hetzel et al., 2011). Most of previous thermochronological studies revealed that the Gangdese batholith in the Southern Tibet mainly experienced rapidly cooling during the Miocene (e.g., Li et al., 2015; Tremblay et al., 2015; Carrapa et al., 2014), consistent with the outward growth model. However, several other studies also reported the batholith had been rapid cooled during the Early Cenozoic periods with limited data (Ge et al., 2017; Li et al., 2016; Dai et al., 2013). The Early Cenozoic cooling history would support the hypothesis that Gangdese batholith should maintained high elevations since at least the Paleocene as an Andean-type mountain (Ding et al., 2014). Therefore, the complete exhumation histories of the Gangdese batholith are required to examining different assumptions.

    With the collision of Indian and Asian plates during the Cenozoic, many magmatism and tectonic activities severely affected the cooling of the Gangdese magmatic arc, including the Early Cenozoic Linzizong volcanic rocks (Mo et al., 2008 and references therein), Oligocene–Miocene stage of calc-alkaline and potassic-ultrapotassic volcanism (Chung et al., 2005), movement along the Gangdese thrust (GT) and greater counter thrust (GCT) during the Oligocene to Miocene (Murphy and Yin, 2003; Yin et al., 1999), extensional north-south fault (e.g., Styron et al., 2015; Murphy et al., 2010; Harrison et al., 1995) and dextral motion along the Karakoram fault (e.g., Lacassin et al., 2004). In the Western Lhasa terrane, the different kinds of magmatism and tectonic activities were well developed during the Cenozoic, making it an ideal place to detect the long-term and full exhumation processes of the Gangdese magmatic arc (Fig. 1).

    Figure 1.  Reginal relief (STRM) and geological map of the Southern Tibet. Locations of the structures are after Styron et al. (2015). White frame outlies location of Fig. 2. Black box in the inset shows the position of the main map in the Tibetan Plateau. BNS. Banggong-Nujiang suture; IYS. Indus-Yarlung suture; GCF. Guozha Co fault; GCT. greater counter thrust; GT. Gangdese thrust; JLF. Jiali fault; KKF. Karakorum fault; LMC. Longmu Co fault; SGAT. Shiquanhe-Gaize-Ando thrust; STDS. South Tibetan detachment system; MCT. main central thrust; MBT. main boundary thrust; MFT. main front thrust; ADM. Ama Drime massif; GLR. Gulu rift; GMD. Gurla Mandhata dome; GRG. Gyirong graben; KCG. Kung Co graben; LPK. Lopukangri rift; LPD. Leo Pargil dome; NLR. North Lunggar rift; NQT. Nyainqentanglha rift; PQX. Pengqu-Xainza rift; RBG. Renbu graben; SHG. Shuanghu graben; SLR. South Lunggar rift; TKG. Thakkhola graben; TYC. Tangra Yum Co rift; XGL. Xiao gurla; YDR. Yadong rift.

    Fission-track dating of detrital zircons has been widely used for the provenance study and long-term exhumation analysis of convergent mountain belts (Shen et al., 2019, 2016; Chirouze et al., 2012; Bernet et al., 2006, 2001; Wang et al., 2006; Carter and Moss, 1999; Hurford et al., 1984). In this study, we present new detrital zircon fission-track (ZFT) data from modern river sand in the Western Lhasa terrane to detect the present-day marks of exhumation in the west part of Gangdese magmatic arc.

  • Six samples were collected from modern sand along several rivers in the western Tibet, between the Lunggar rift to the east and the Karakorum strike-slip fault to the west (Fig. 2), submitting to detrital ZFT analysis. Two of them were collected from the river derived from the extensional structures, Lunggar rift (T34-1) and Xiao gurla (T34-2), and two collected in the rivers derived from north of the Mt. Kailas (T34-3 and T34-4), and the remaining two located in the Karakoram fault zone, west of the Mt. Kailas (T34-5 and T34-6). More specifically, the sample T34-5 are derived from the Gangdese magmaitic arc, and the sample T34-6 are from the Ayilari Range, south of the fault zone.

    The ZFT dating used the external detectors methods (Bernet and Garver, 2005). After mineral separation, the zircon grains were mounted in Teflon® sheet, and then polished. The etching took place in a eutectic NaOH-KOH melt under the temperature of 228 ℃. The white mica was chosen as external detectors, covering the etched zircon Teflon sheets. The packages were irradiated together with Fish Canyon Tuff at the China Institute of Atomic Energy with a nominal thermal neutron fluence of 1×1015 cm-2. After irradiation, the induced fission-tracks on mica were revealed with 18 min etching at 20 ℃ in 48% HF. Fission-track counting of all samples were conducted at 1 000×magnification with Zeiss microscope at the fission-track laboratory in the State Key Laboratory of Geological Processes and Mineral Resources, China University of Geosciences (Wuhan).

    Minimum and central ages for every sample were yielded and plotted by using the software of RadialPlotter (Vermeesch, 2009). The minimum age basically reflects a pooled age of the largest concordant fraction of grains with the youngest cooling ages in a sample, while an estimate of a mean age of an over-dispersed discordant age distribution is defined as central age (Galbraith and Laslett, 1993). In this study, both the central and minimum ages are used to estimate average and maximum exhumation rates of the modern catchment.

    Previous studies proposed different approaches to estimated or calculated exhumation rates according to thermochronological ages (Willett and Brandon, 2013). In this study, we use the Age2edot program (Reiners and Brandon, 2006; Ehlers et al., 2005) to estimate the first-order exhumation rates. This program transfers the thermochronological ages into exhumation rate estimates according to a one-dimensional thermal advection solution (Bernet, 2013) (Fig. 3).

    Figure 3.  ZFT ages against the erosion rates achieved from the Age2edot program (modified after Reiners and Brandon, 2006; Ehlers et al., 2005).

  • For each sample, 50 grains were analyzed for getting the reliable data. Detailed data are shown in Table 1, including central ages and binomial peak ages (Stewart and Brandon, 2004; Brandon, 1996) with ±1σ uncertainties, and radial plots are presented in Fig. 4.

    Sample GPS N ρd×105 cm-2 (Nd) Ρs×106 cm-2 (Ns) Ρi×106 cm-2 (Ni) U (μg·g-1) P(χ) P1 age (Ma, ±1σ) P2 age (Ma, ±1σ) P3 age (Ma, ±1σ) P4 age (Ma, ±1σ) P5 age (Ma, ±1σ) Central age (Ma, ±1σ) Minimum age (Ma, ±1σ)
    T34-1 30°13.330′ 83°00.367′ 51 3.905 (2 733) 3.63 (3 291) 4.31 (3 907) 439 0 15.31±0.49 (68.2%) 35.0±1.9 (31.8%) 20.1±1.3 13.3±1.0
    T34-2 30°30.325′ 82°36.653′ 50 3.891 (2 723) 3.23 (3 027) 3.13 (2 926) 320 0 15.84±0.95 (33%) 30.2±1.3 (67%) 24.6±1.4 15.5±1.2
    T34-3 30°55.899 ′ 81°17.978 ′ 50 3.886 (2 720) 4.66 (4 378) 3.08 (2 898) 316 0 27.2±2.6 (31%) 38.4±2.3 (69%) 34.5±1.2 28.0±2.5
    T34-4 31°03.536 ′ 81°02.794 ′ 50 3.876 (2 713) 5.52 (4 330) 3.30 (2 586) 339 0 26.6±1.4 (43%) 44.9±3.7 (46%) 80±23 (11%) 37.4±2.1 24.3±4.0
    T34-5 32°00.816 ′ 80°06.719 ′ 50 3.866 (2 706) 3.62 (3 549) 3.14 (3 075) 323 0 10.81±0.72 (17%) 27.8±1.3 (61%) 46.7±4.1 (22%) 26.3±1.9 11.3±1.3
    T34-6 32°03.960′ 80°02.783 ′ 50 3.856 (2 699) 2.49 (2 836) 5.22 (5 944) 539 0 10.46±0.27 (96.6%) 30.9±4.6 (3.4%) 10.68±0.44 10.48±0.3
    Note: Zeta calibration factor ξ=117.13±1.31 with glass dosimeter CN1; N. number of grains. The percentage of grains in a specific peak is also given.

    Table 1.  Detrital zircon fission-track data of the western Tibet drainage

    Figure 4.  Radial plots of zircon fission-track (ZFT) data of all six samples, showing the central, minimum and peak ages. Plots were made with the RadialPlotter of Vermeesch (2009).

    All of the detrital ZFT samples failed the χ2 test (P(χ2) < 5%), indicating multiple age populations of the ZFT age distributions (Brandon, 1996, 1992). The detrital ZFT age distributions were divided into two or three distinct age populations for each sample, by using the binomial peak fitting methods (Stewart and Brandon, 2004; Brandon, 1996) (Table 1 and Fig. 4). These age peaks of different samples could be grouped in five age peak groups as P1 to P5. All samples contain an Oligocene (P3) or Eocene (P4) age peak, and three of them have both. Easternmost two samples also yield a Middle Miocene age peak (P2), while the westernmost two samples report the Late Miocene age peak (P1) (Fig. 5). The Late Cretaceous age peak (P5) is only reported by the sample T34-4 in the middle area. The calculated minimum and central ages (Table 1 and Fig. 4) do reflect the Oligocene, Early Miocene, and Middle Miocene ZFT ages in the western Tibet drainage area.

    Figure 5.  Probability density plots of fission-track grain-age distributions of all six samples.

  • The detrital ZFT ages from modern river sands show the rocks experiencing multiple cooling. In order to understand the complicated geodynamic progress of the Tibetan Plateau, the priority is clarifying the geological meaning of these cooling ages. The binomial fitting of detrital ZFT ages yields four peak ages during the Cenozoic, Eocene (~46–35 Ma), Oligocene (~31–26 Ma), Middle (~15–16 Ma) and Late Miocene (~10–11 Ma) (Fig. 5). The Eocene and Oligocene age peaks well match with the detrital ZFT data of the Kailas Formation rocks near the Mt. Kailas area (Shen et al., 2019). The Eocene age peak is later than the time of Indian-Asian continental collision at ~60–52 Ma (e.g., Hu et al., 2016; DeCelles et al., 2014; Chen et al., 2010; Najman et al., 2010; Leech et al., 2005; Yin and Harrison, 2000). The Gangdese magmatic arc and Qiangtang terrane experienced mainly tectonic exhumation and uplift stage afterwards. In the hinterland of the plateau, (U-Th)/He and fission-track thermochronological studies show the Cenozoic rock exhumation and surface uplift occurred at 49±6 Ma (Rohromann et al., 2012). Along the Bangong suture, the north-dipping Shiquanhe-Gaize-Amdo thrust system cuts 43 m.y. old volcanic tuffs and accommodated > 40 km shortening (Kapp et al., 2005). The geological mapping by Wu et al. (2004) suggested that the Namu Co thrust was active at ~44 Ma, which generated significant rock uplift and cooling. The cosmogenic data, combined with these thermochronological ages, indicates that the erosion rate of the northern Gangdese belt has been decreased after ~35 Ma and kept a stable geomorphic feature (Haider et al., 2013; Hetzel et al., 2011). Hence, the Eocene cooling took place after the Indian-Asian collision, reflecting the rock uplift and cooling derived from the strong convergence and deformation, and the rudiment of the plateau has been formed (Wang et al., 2014, 2008).

    The Oligocene peak ages did not attract much attention in previous studies (e.g., Copeland et al., 1995), however, this age component account up to 67% of individual grain-ages (Table 1). This peak age probably corresponded to the thrusting along the north dipping GT between ~30–24 Ma, which induced extensive denudation of its hanging wall rocks, i.e., the Gangdese btholith (Yin et al., 1994). Ge et al. (2017) also reported the Oligocene rock cooling of the southern Gangdese magmatic arc, suggesting both the movement along the GT (Yin et al., 1999) and extension due to the slab roll-back (DeCelles et al., 2011; Chung et al., 2009) could generate the rapid exhumation along the Gangdese magmatic arc. Considering the sample T34-6 derived from the Ayilari Range (Fig. 2), south of the Gangdese magmatic arc, also reports a small age peak during the Oligocene, we prefer the extension interpretation for this period cooling, because the movement of GT cannot exhume the footwall rocks.

    The two Miocene age peaks are only reported by the samples derived from specific regions. The two samples east of Mayoumu area, T34-1 and T34-2, yield a peak age of ~15 Ma. The rivers are derived from Xiao gurla area (T34-2) and Lunggar rift (T34-1) respectively (Fig. 2). Previous studies demonstrated that the detachment along the Mandahata gurla in Xiao gurla area and along the Lunggar-Palung Co fault system was initiated at 16–15 Ma (Styron et al., 2015; Pullen et al., 2011). It suggests that the extension in the south Gangdese magmatic arc could start at ~15 Ma. On the other hand, the other two samples T34-5 and T34-6 were collected in the Karakorum fault zone (Fig. 2), and yield the youngest ZFT age peak, ~10 Ma. Especially for the sample T34-6, the peak age of 10.46±0.27 Ma account for 96.9% of individual grain-ages, with a central age of 10.68±0.44 Ma (Table 1). This sample was collected along a river derived from the Ayilari Range, where mylonite with strong ductile deformation is well developed due to the dextral slip of the Karakorum fault (Valli et al., 2007; Lacassin et al., 2004). 40Ar/39Ar of K-feldspar and micas thermochronology shows that the rapid cooling of mylonite started at 21–14 Ma and enhanced during 14–4 Ma (Valli et al., 2007; Lacassin et al., 2004). Considering the closure temperature difference between the K-feldspar and mica 40Ar/39Ar and ZFT system, the ~10 Ma cooling age detected by zircon fission-track should also reflect the rock cooling and exhumation during the dextral slip movement along the Karakorum fault.

    It is worth noting that the widespread Miocene exhumation of the Gangdese batholith at ~17 Ma reveal by apatite fission-track and zircon (U-Th)/He data (Ge et al., 2017; Li et al., 2016, 2015; Tremblay et al., 2015; Carrapa et al., 2014; Dai et al., 2013; Copeland et al., 1995) was not recorded by the detrital ZFT data. The reason could be that the rocks with young ZFT ages probably have not been exhumed to the surface, indicating the denudation depth since the ~17 Ma were small than 7 km (assuming a thermal gradient of 25 ℃/km and 200 ℃ for ZFT closure temperature) (Reiners and Brandon, 2006).

  • In a convergent orogenic belt, erosion and normal faulting would result in exhumation of the upper crustal rocks, which helped to detect the unroofing history of rock towards the Earth's surface (England and Molnar, 1990). Without major normal faults activities, erosion will be the priority driver for surface exhumation. According to the relationship between fission-track age and exhumation rate as mentioned above (Fig. 3), the minimum and central ages could be used to estimate the first-order exhumation rates. The average exhumation rates with long-term (over millions of years) could be estimated by the detrital ZFT central ages of the river samples. On the other hand, zircons with the minimum age should come from places where experienced the most recent and fastest exhumation (Bernet, 2013).

    As discussed above, the Eocene and Oligocene age peaks are yielded by all the samples, indicating a widespread rock cooling of the Gangdese magmatic arc. The two samples at the south of the Mt. Kailas have not been affected by the extensional tectonics, therefore could be used to estimate the long-term exhumation rate. With the minimum ages, the maximum rate of exhumation of the Gangdese magmatic arc during the Oligocene is on the order of ~0.4 km/Ma (assuming a thermal gradient of 25 ℃/km) (Fig. 3). According to the central age of the detrital age distributions, it is estimated that the average exhumation rates are on the order of ~0.3 km/Ma since the Oligocene (Fig. 3).

  • The time when the Tibetan Plateau reached its current elevation has been a hot issue for a long time. Wang et al.(2014, 2008) suggests that a high proto-plateau extending from Gangdese to the south and Kunlun Mountain to the north has been formed before ~45 Ma, based on the sedimentary and paleomagnetism features, age of volcanic rocks as well as time of rocks cooling in the Central Tibet. Other study also supports that the exhumation in the Central Tibet mainly occurred before ~45 Ma, and afterwards, the hinterland of the plateau turned into a relatively stable state (Hetzel et al., 2011). The stable isotope studies conducted in the south of Bangong suture, such as in Lunpola, Nima and Gerze basins, show that the northern part of the Lhasa terrane achieved high elevation during 40–26 Ma (Wei et al., 2016; Xu et al., 2015; DeCelles et al., 2007; Rowley and Currie, 2006). Therefore, it seems that the best estimate for the time of high plateau forming in north Lhasa terrane is the Oligocene.

    For the south margin of the Gangdese magmatic arc, the time is still a controversy. Spicer et al. (2003) found an assemble of plant fossils in the Miocene tuff layer in the Namlin Basin, indicating the elevation in 15 Ma ago is almost as high as now. However, a new oxygen stable isotope study in Linzhou Basin suggests that the elevation has attained 4 500±400 m when the collision between Indian and Eurasian plates took place (Ding et al., 2014). This conclusion has been supported by a new thermochronological study in the Lhasa River area. Li et al. (2016) found some rocks in the upper stream of Lhasa River has been cooled at ~45 Ma, indicating a rapid uplift of this area which could result the Gangdese batholith obtained high elevation. However, the Miocene exhumation of the Gangdese batholith has been well recognized (Li et al., 2016, 2015; Carrapa et al., 2014; Dai et al., 2013; Copeland et al., 1995 and this study), so that whether the Eocene or Miocene exhumation could reflect the elevation increasing is still unclear.

    According to the new detrital ZFT data, the Gangdese batholith experienced multiple exhumation during the Eocene, Oligocene, Middle (~15 Ma) and Late (~10 Ma) Miocene. The Middle and Late Miocene exhumation probably took place at the region related to the extensional or strike-slip fault activities. The estimate average exhumation rate of the Gangdese magmatic arc since the Oligocene was ~0.3 km/Ma, which was far beyond the erosion rate of the central plateau since the Eocene at 0.05 km/Ma (Rohrmann et al., 2012). It indicated that the southern margin of the Gangdese belt has been significant exhumed after the Oligocene while the central plateau turned into slow exhumation stage. Therefore, we suggest that the high plateau was formed in the southern Gangdese magmatic arc probably after the Oligocene.

  • Detrital ZFT analysis of the modern river sand in the western Tibet revealed the Gangdese batholith experienced multiple exhumation stages during the Cenozoic, at the Eocene (~46–35 Ma), Oligocene (~31–26 Ma), Middle Miocene (~15–16 Ma) and Late Miocene (~10–11 Ma). The Eocene and Oligocene exhumation events were widespread in the Gangdese batholith, while the Middle and Late Miocene exhumation mainly occurred in the region close to the extensional and strike-slip faults. The fastest exhumation rates are exhuming at long-term rates of about 0.4 km/Ma, with drainage basin average long-term exhumation rates on the order of ~0.3 km/Ma since the Oligocene. This result supports the outward growth model for plateau forming, indicating the southern margin of the Gangdese magmatic arc attained high elevation after the Oligocene.

  • This study was jointly supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 41702208, 41972223) and the China Geological Survey (Nos. 1212011121261, DD20179607, DD20160060, 12120114042801). We thanked two anonymous reviewers who provided constructive suggestion for improving this manuscript. The final publication is available at Springer via https://doi.org/10.1007/s12583-020-1285-y.

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