Reconstructing the Late Palaeozoic – Mesozoic topographic evolution of the Chinese Tian Shan: available data and remaining uncertainties
The topographic evolution of continents and especially the growth and dismembering of mountain ranges plays a major role in the tectonic evolution of orogenic systems, as well as in regional or global climate changes. A large number of studies have concentrated on the description, quantification and dating of relief building in active mountain ranges. However, deciphering the topographic evolution of a continental area submitted to recurrent tectonic deformation over several hundred millions of years remains a challenge. Here we present a synthesis of the tectonic, geochronological and sedimentological data available on the intracontinental Tian Shan Range to describe its general topographic evolution from Late Palaeozoic to Early Tertiary. We show that this evolution has occurred in two very distinct geodynamic settings, initiating during the Carboniferous in an ocean subduction – continent collision tectonic context before becoming, from Early Permian, purely intra-continental. We show that during most of the Mesozoic, the topography is mostly characterized by a progressive general decrease of the relief. Nonetheless localized, recurrent deformation induced the formation of small-scale reliefs during that period. These deformations were driven by far field effects of possibly several geodynamic processes in a way that still remains to be fully understood.