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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Professor Yaoling Niu

Zhu, D.C., Zhao, Z.D., Niu, Yaoling, Dilek, Y., Hou, Z.Q. & Mo, X.X. (2013). The origin and pre-Cenozoic evolution of the Tibetan Plateau. Gondwana Research 23(4): 1429-1454.

Author(s) from Durham


Different hypotheses have been proposed for the origin and pre-Cenozoic evolution of the Tibetan Plateau as a result of several collision events between a series of Gondwana-derived terranes (e.g., Qiangtang, Lhasa and India) and Asian continent since the early Paleozoic. This paper reviews and reevaluates these hypotheses in light of new data from Tibet including (1) the distribution of major tectonic boundaries and suture zones, (2) basement rocks and their sedimentary covers, (3) magmatic suites, and (4) detrital zircon constraints from Paleozoic metasedimentary rocks. The Western Qiangtang, Amdo, and Tethyan Himalaya terranes have the Indian Gondwana origin, whereas the Lhasa Terrane shows an Australian Gondwana affinity. The Cambrian magmatic record in the Lhasa Terrane resulted from the subduction of the proto-Tethyan Ocean lithosphere beneath the Australian Gondwana. The newly identified late Devonian granitoids in the southern margin of the Lhasa Terrane may represent an extensional magmatic event associated with its rifting, which ultimately resulted in the opening of the Songdo Tethyan Ocean. The Lhasa−northern Australia collision at ~ 263 Ma was likely responsible for the initiation of a southward-dipping subduction of the Bangong-Nujiang Tethyan Oceanic lithosphere. The Yarlung-Zangbo Tethyan Ocean opened as a back-arc basin in the late Triassic, leading to the separation of the Lhasa Terrane from northern Australia. The subsequent northward subduction of the Yarlung-Zangbo Tethyan Ocean lithosphere beneath the Lhasa Terrane may have been triggered by the Qiangtang–Lhasa collision in the earliest Cretaceous. The mafic dike swarms (ca. 284 Ma) in the Western Qiangtang originated from the Panjal plume activity that resulted in continental rifting and its separation from the northern Indian continent. The subsequent collision of the Western Qiangtang with the Eastern Qiangtang in the middle Triassic was followed by slab breakoff that led to the exhumation of the Qiangtang metamorphic rocks. This collision may have caused the northward subduction initiation of the Bangong-Nujiang Ocean lithosphere beneath the Western Qiangtang. Collision-related coeval igneous rocks occurring on both sides of the suture zone and the within-plate basalt affinity of associated mafic lithologies suggest slab breakoff-induced magmatism in a continent−continent collision zone. This zone may be the site of net continental crust growth, as exemplified by the Tibetan Plateau.