Major temporal variations in shortening rate absorbed along a large active fold of the southeastern Tianshan piedmont (China)


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The investigation of deformation rates on a mountain piedmont can provide key information for improving our understanding of the overall dynamics of a mountain range. Here, we estimate the shortening rate absorbed by a Quaternary emergent detachment fold on the southeastern piedmont of the Tianshan (China). Our work is primarily based on new 10Be cosmogenic exposure dating of deformed alluvial surfaces. The method we have developed combines depth profiling with sampling of surface cobbles, thereby allowing exposure time, erosion rate and inheritance to be simultaneously constrained. The exposure ages of the uppermost uplifted alluvial surfaces are around 140±17 ka, 130±9 ka and 47±9 ka, from west to east. A terrace lying below the 140 ka surface is dated at 65±5 ka. The ages of the uplifted and folded alluvial surfaces were then combined with estimates of shortening obtained using two distinct methods: (1) the excess area method, where sedimentation rates, extracted from magnetostratigraphic studies, are used to determine the amount of sedimentation after the abandonment of the river; and (2) a folding model derived from sandbox experiments. The late Pleistocene shortening rates are shown to be between 0.4±0.1 mm/yr and 0.8±0.5 mm/yr on the western part of the fold and 2.1±0.4 mm/yr along its central part. The central part of the frontal Yakeng anticline therefore accommodates up to 25% of the total shortening currently absorbed across the whole Eastern Tianshan range (8 mm/yr). However, this situation seems to have prevailed for only the last 150 ka, as the shortening rate absorbed by this nascent fold was previously ten times slower. While the initiation of folding of the Yakeng anticline can be traced back to 5.5 Ma ago, the basinward migration of the active deformation front onto the Yakeng fold is a relatively recent phenomenon and appears to be diachronous from west to east, probably in relation to the tectonic activity of the folds in the hinterland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-348
Number of pages16
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Jan 2016


  • Active folding
  • Foreland basin
  • Shortening rates
  • Terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide
  • Tianshan


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