The highest elevation of the Tibetan Plateau, lying 5,700 m above sea level, occurs within the part of the Lhasa block immediately north of the India-Tibet suture zone (Yarlung Zangbo suture zone, YZSZ), being 700 m higher than the maximum elevation of more northern parts of the plateau. Various mechanisms have been proposed to explain this differentially higher topography and the rock uplift that led to it, invoking crustal compression or extension. Here we present the results of structural investigations along the length of the high elevation belt and suture zone, which rather indicate flexural bending of the southern margin of the Lhasa block (Gangdese magmatic belt) and occurrence of an adjacent foreland basin (Kailas Basin), both elements resulting from supra-crustal loading of the Lhasa block by the Zangbo Complex (Indian plate rocks) via the Great Counter Thrust. Hence we interpret the differential elevation of the southern margin of the plateau as due originally to uplift of a forebulge in a retro foreland setting modified by subsequent processes. Identification of this flexural deformation has implications for early evolution of the India-Tibet continental collision zone, implying an initial (Late Oligocene) symmetrical architecture that subsequently transitioned into the present asymmetrical wedge architecture.
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