The South Tibetan detachment system separates the high-grade metamorphic core of the Himalayan orogen from its weakly metamorphosed suprastructure. It is thought to have developed in response to differences in gravitational potential energy produced by crustal thickening across the mountain front. Geochronologic data from the Rongbuk Valley, north of Qomolangma (Mount Everest) in southern Tibet, demonstrate that at least one segment of the detachment system was active between 19 and 22 million years ago, an interval characterized by large-scale crustal thickening at lower structural levels. These data suggest that decoupling between an extending upper crust and a converging lower crust was an important aspect of Himalayan tectonics in Miocene time.
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