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Himalayan tectonics explained by extrusion of a low-viscosity crustal channel coupled to focused surface denudation


Recent interpretations of Himalayan–Tibetan tectonics have proposed that channel flow in the middle to lower crust can explain outward growth of the Tibetan plateau1,2,3, and that ductile extrusion of high-grade metamorphic rocks between coeval normal- and thrust-sense shear zones can explain exhumation of the Greater Himalayan sequence4,5,6,7. Here we use coupled thermal–mechanical numerical models to show that these two processes—channel flow and ductile extrusion—may be dynamically linked through the effects of surface denudation focused at the edge of a plateau that is underlain by low-viscosity material. Our models provide an internally self-consistent explanation for many observed features of the Himalayan–Tibetan system8,9,10.

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Figure 1: General tectonic features of the Himalaya and southern Tibet5,8–10,15,16.
Figure 2: Development of surface-coupled channel flow (ah) and effect of changing convergence velocity and subduction conditions (ij).
Figure 3: Model channel flow modes and exhumation/extrusion styles.
Figure 4: Comparison of model 3 (51 Myr after start of model) with observations from the Himalayan–Tibetan system.


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This research was funded by Lithoprobe Supporting Geoscience and NSERC Research grants to C.B. and R.A.J., and the Inco Fellowship of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to C.B. All the models were run using the finite element thermal-mechanical program developed by P. Fullsack. The work benefited from discussions with J. Braun, L. Brown, L. Derry, P. Fullsack, D. Grujic, D. Nelson, S. Medvedev, O. Vanderhaeghe and K. Whipple. Comments by L. Royden substantially improved the manuscript.

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Beaumont, C., Jamieson, R., Nguyen, M. et al. Himalayan tectonics explained by extrusion of a low-viscosity crustal channel coupled to focused surface denudation. Nature 414, 738–742 (2001).

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