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Low slip rates and long-term preservation of geomorphic features in Central Asia


In order to understand the dynamics of the India–Asia collision zone, it is important to know the strain distribution in Central Asia, whose determination relies on the slip rates for active faults1,2,3,4,5. Many previous slip-rate estimates of faults in Central Asia were based on the assumption that offset landforms are younger than the Last Glacial Maximum (20 kyr ago)6,7,8,9,10,11. In contrast, here we present surface exposure ages of 40 to 170 kyr, obtained using cosmogenic nuclide dating, for a series of terraces near a thrust at the northern margin of the Tibetan Plateau. Combined with the tectonic offset, the ages imply a long-term slip rate of only about 0.35 mm yr-1 for the active thrust, an order of magnitude lower than rates obtained from the assumption that the terraces formed after the Last Glacial Maximum. Our data demonstrate that the preservation potential of geomorphic features in Central Asia is higher than commonly assumed.

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Figure 1: Geological setting of the studied thrust fault.
Figure 2: Map showing the spatial distribution of terraces at site 2 and the locations of four fault scarp (SP1, SP2, SP3 and SP4) and two terrace (TP1 and TP2) profiles.
Figure 3: Topographic profiles at the Yumen thrust.
Figure 4: Plot of exposure ages versus heights of the different terraces.


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R.H. acknowledges logistic support from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Lanzhou and is grateful to J. Erzinger for his support. We thank B.P. Wernicke and G.S. Hancock for constructive reviews. This project is financially supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Chinese Academy of Science (“Knowledge & Creativeness Project”), and the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam.

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Correspondence to Ralf Hetzel.

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Hetzel, R., Niedermann, S., Tao, M. et al. Low slip rates and long-term preservation of geomorphic features in Central Asia. Nature 417, 428–432 (2002).

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