Active thrusting and folding in the Qilian Shan, and decoupling between upper crust and mantle in northeastern Tibet

P. Tapponnier, B. Meyer, J. P. Avouac, G. Peltzer, Y. Gaudemer, Shunmin Guo Shunmin, Hongfa Xiang Hongfa, Kelun Yin Kelun, Zhitai Chen Zhitai, Shuahua Cai Shuahua, Huagang Dai Huagang

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430 Citations (Scopus)


Fieldwork south of the city of Gaotai (Gansu province, China) shows that active shortening of surface sediments in the foothills of the Yumu Shan, a large fore-mountain of the Qilian Shan, at the northeastern edge of Tibet, involves both overthrusting and flexural-slip folding. North of this mountain, we found and mapped a prominent north-facing thrust scarp that offsets a Holocene fan sloping gently (3.4°) to the north. Part of this scarp appears to be related to the M ≈ 7.5, 180 A.D. earthquake that may have led to the demise of the Han Dynasty city of Luo Tuo Chen, in the Hexi corridor. A set of 10, 100-150 m long profiles measured across this scarp, 3.2 m high on the average, can be made to fit the diffusion-degraded morphology of a surface break related to the 180 A.D. event using a value of about 3.3 m2/103 yr for the mass diffusivity κ{script} of fanglomerates in this part of Gansu province. Smaller mountain-facing scarps on a terrace-capped foothill result from bedding slip concurrent with active folding of underlying, steeply northdipping, Plioquaternary sandstone and conglomerate beds. Holocene uplift rates along the Yumu Shan, which is only one of the Qilian Shan ranges, are estimated to be between 0.4 and 1.9 mm/yr, which implies that much of the mountain formed in the Quaternary. The periclinal structure of the Plioquaternary envelope under which the Paleozoic core of the Yumu Shan plunges towards the west suggests that the whole 3200 m high mountain is a basement ramp anticline. Mountains striking parallel to the Yumu Shan, with similar structure and comparable or greater sizes north and south of the Hexi corridor probably also correspond to recent, crustal ramp anticlines. This implies that the wide, mountainous upper crustal wedge making the northeastern edge of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau is detached from the underlying lower crust and upper mantle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-383
Number of pages2
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Mar 1990


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