The Lesser Himalaya (LH) consists of metasedimentary rocks that have been scrapped off from the underthrusting Indian crust and accreted to the mountain range over the last ∼20 Myr. It now forms a significant fraction of the Himalayan collisional orogen. We document the kinematics and thermal metamorphism associated with the deformation and exhumation of the LH, combining thermometric and thermochronological methods with structural geology. Peak metamorphic temperatures estimated from Raman spectroscopy of carbonaceous material decrease gradually from 520°-550°C below the Main Central Thrust zone down to less than 330°C. These temperatures describe structurally a 20°-50°C/km inverted apparent gradient. The Ar muscovite ages from LH samples and from the overlying crystalline thrust sheets all indicate the same regular trend; i.e., an increase from about 3-4 Ma near the front of the high range to about 20 Ma near the leading edge of the thrust sheets, about 80 km to the south. This suggests that the LH has been exhumed jointly with the overlying nappes as a result of overthrusting by about 5 mm/yr. For a convergence rate of about 20 mm/yr, this implies underthrusting of the Indian basement below the Himalaya by about 15 mm/yr. The structure, metamorphic grade and exhumation history of the LH supports the view that, since the mid-Miocene, the Himalayan orogen has essentially grown by underplating, rather than by frontal accretion. This process has resulted from duplexing at a depth close to the brittle-ductile transition zone, by southward migration of a midcrustal ramp along the Main Himalayan Thrust fault, and is estimated to have resulted in a net flux of up to 150 m2/yr of LH rocks into the Himalayan orogenic wedge. The steep inverse thermal gradient across the LH is interpreted to have resulted from a combination of underplating and post metamorphic shearing of the underplated units.
- Thermal structure