Letter | Published:

Eocene Tibetan plateau remnants preserved in the northwest Himalaya

Nature Geoscience volume 2, pages 364368 (2009) | Download Citation

  • An Erratum to this article was published on 21 May 2009

Abstract

The northwest Himalaya shows strongly contrasting relief. Deeply incised mountain ranges that are characterized by extremely rapid exhumation1,2,3 and some of the highest peaks in the world are in contrast with high-elevation, low-relief areas such as the Deosai plateau in northern Pakistan, which lies at an altitude of 4,000 m. The origin and evolution of such plateau regions at the convergence of the most active continental collision in the world remain elusive. Here we report low-temperature thermochronology data from the Deosai plateau and use thermal history modelling to show that the plateau has undergone continuous slow denudation at rates below 250 m Myr−1 for the past 35 Myr at least. This finding suggests tectonic and morphologic stability of the plateau since at least Eocene times, only 15–20 Myr after the onset of the India–Asia collision. Our work contradicts the hypothesis that widespread low-relief surfaces in the northwest Himalaya result from efficient kilometre-scale glacial erosion during Quaternary times4. We show that similarly stable surfaces exist throughout the entire northwest Himalaya and share common morphologic characteristics and denudation histories, which are comparable to those of the western Tibetan plateau. Our results suggest that these surfaces are preserved remnants of an Eocene southwestern Tibetan plateau that was more extensive than today.

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Acknowledgements

The Geological Survey of Pakistan and the French Embassy in Pakistan provided support during field work. (U–Th)/He thermochronology was supported by the University of Arizona in the framework of the 2007 He-Dating Workshop in Arizona. Partial support for this work was also provided by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche. We thank Andrew Meigs and Albrecht Steck for constructive comments.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. LGCA-OSUG, University of Grenoble, CNRS, BP 53, F-38041 Grenoble, France

    • Peter van der Beek
    • , Jérémie Van Melle
    • , Stéphane Guillot
    •  & Arnaud Pêcher
  2. Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

    • Peter W. Reiners
    •  & Stefan Nicolescu
  3. Geological Survey of Pakistan, Plot N.84, H-8/1 Islamabad, Pakistan

    • Mohammad Latif

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Contributions

P.v.d.B., J.V.M., S.G., A.P., and M.L. conducted fieldwork; J.V.M. processed samples and conducted thermochronological (AFT and (U–Th)/He) and morphometric analyses; P.W.R. and S.N. conducted and supervised (U–Th)/He analyses; P.v.d.B., S.G., A.P. and J.V.M. designed the study and wrote the paper; all authors discussed and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Peter van der Beek.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo503

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