Late Cenozoic-recent tectonics of the southwestern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, Ladakh, northwest India
The Himalayan orogenic system is one of the youngest and most spectacular examples of a continent-continent collision on earth. Although the collision zone has been the subject of extensive research, fundamental questions remain concerning the architecture and evolution of the orogen. Of particular interest are the structures surrounding the 5 km high Tibetan Plateau, as these features record both the collisional and post-collisional evolution of the orogen. In this study we examine structures along the southwestern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, including the Karakoram (KFS) and Longmu Co (LCF) faults, and the Ladakh, Pangong and Karakoram Ranges. New low-temperature thermochronology data collected from across the Ladakh, Pangong and Karakoram Ranges improved the spatial resolution of exhumation patterns adjacent to the edge of the plateau. These data show a southwest to northeast decrease in cooling ages, which is the trailing end of a wave of decreased exhumation related to changes in the overall amount of north-south shortening accommodated across the region. We also posit that north-south shortening is responsible for the orientation of the LCF in India. Previously, the southern end of the LCF was unmapped. We used ASTER remotely sensed images to create a comprehensive lithologic map of the region, which allowed us to map the LCF into India. This mapping shows that this fault has been rotated into parallelism with the Karakoram fault system as a result of N-S shortening and dextral shear on the KFS. Additionally, the orientation and sense of motion along these two systems implies that they are acting as a conjugate fault pair, allowing the eastward extrusion of the Tibet. Finally, we identify and quantify late Quaternary slip on the Tangtse strand of the KFS, which was previously believed to be inactive. Our study found that this fault strand accommodated ca. 6 mm/yr of slip over the last ca. 33-6 ka. Additionally, we speculate that slip is temporally partitioned between the two fault strands, implying that this part of the fault system is more complex than previously believed.