Contrasting exhumation histories and relief development within the Three Rivers Region (south-east Tibet)

Ou, Xiong; Replumaz, Anne; van der Beek, Peter

The Three Rivers Region in south-east Tibet represents a transition between the strongly deformed zone around the Eastern Himalayan Syntaxis (EHS) and the less deformed south-east Tibetan Plateau margin in Yunnan and Sichuan. In this study, we compile and model published thermochronometric ages for two massifs facing each other across the Mekong River in the core of the Three Rivers Region (TRR), using the thermo-kinematic code Pecube to constrain their exhumation and relief history. Modelling results for the low-relief (inline-formula< 600 m), moderate-elevation (inline-formula∼ 4500 m) Baima Xueshan massif, east of the Mekong River, suggest regional rock uplift at a rate of 0.25 km/Myr since inline-formula∼ 10 Ma, following slow exhumation at a rate of 0.01 km/Myr since at least 22 Ma. Estimated Mekong River incision accounts for 30 % of the total exhumation since 10 Ma. We interpret exhumation of the massif as a response to regional uplift around the EHS and conclude that the low relief of the massif was acquired at high elevation (inline-formula> 4500 m), probably in part due to glacial “buzzsaw-like” processes active at such high elevation and particularly efficient during Quaternary glaciations. Exhumation of the Baima Xueshan is significantly higher (2.5 km since inline-formula∼ 10 Ma) than that estimated for the most emblematic low-relief “relict” surfaces of eastern Tibet, where apatite (U–Th) inline-formula M6inlinescrollmathml / 8pt14ptsvg-formulamathimg073414a2b77546d8d5847ae97897d626 se-12-563-2021-ie00001.svg8pt14ptse-12-563-2021-ie00001.png  He (AHe) ages inline-formula> 50 Ma imply only a few hundreds of metres of exhumation since the onset of the India–Asia collision. The low-relief Baima Xueshan massif, with its younger AHe ages (inline-formula< 50 Ma) that record significant rock uplift and exhumation, thus cannot be classified as a relict surface. Modelling results for the high-relief, high-elevation Kawagebo massif, to the west of the Mekong, imply a similar contribution of Mekong River incision (25 %) to exhumation but much stronger local rock uplift at a rate of 0.45 km/Myr since at least 10 Ma, accelerating to 1.86 km/Myr since 1.6 Ma. We show that the thermochronometric ages are best reproduced by a model of rock uplift on a kinked westward-dipping thrust striking roughly parallel to the Mekong River, with a steep shallow segment flattening out at depth. Thus, the strong differences in elevation and relief of two massifs are linked to variable exhumation histories due to strongly differing tectonic imprint.

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Ou, Xiong / Replumaz, Anne / van der Beek, Peter: Contrasting exhumation histories and relief development within the Three Rivers Region (south-east Tibet). 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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