Cenozoic volcanism in Tibet: Evidence for a transition from oceanic to continental subduction

Lin Ding, Paul Kapp, Dalai Zhong, Wanming Deng

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Geochronological (K-Ar or 40Ar/39Ar), major and trace element, Sr-Nd-Pb isotopic and mineral chemical data are presented for newly discovered Cenozoic volcanic rocks in the western Qiangtang and central Lhasa terranes of Tibet. Alkali basalts of 65-45 Ma occur in the western Qiangtang terrane and represent primitive mantle melts as indicated by high mg-numbers [100 × Mg/(Mg + Fe)] (54-65), Cr (204-839 ppm) and Ni (94-218 ppm) contents, and relatively low ratios of 87Sr/86Sr (0·7046-0·7061), 206Pb/204Pb (18·21-18·89), 207Pb/204Pb (15·49-15·61) and 208Pb/204Pb (38·42-38·89), and high ratios of 143Nd/144Nd (0·5124-0·5127 . In contrast, younger volcanic rocks in the western Qiangtang terrane (∼30 Ma) and the central Lhasa terrane (∼23, ∼13 and ∼8 Ma) are potassic to ultrapotassic and interpreted to have been derived from an enriched mantle source. They are characterized by very high contents of incompatible trace elements, negative Ta, Nb and Ti anomalies, and radiogenic Pb isotopic compositions (206Pb/204Pb = 18·43-19·10; 207Pb/204Pb = 15·64-15·83; 208Pb/204Pb = 39·14-39·67). 87Sr/86Sr (0·7088-0·7092) and 143Nd/144Nd (∼0·5122) ratios of the western Qiangtang terrane potassic lavas are similar to those of 45-29 Ma potassic volcanic rocks in the north-central Qiangtang terrane, whereas 87Sr/86Sr (0·7167-0·7243) and 143Nd/144Nd (∼0·5119) ratios of central Lhasa terrane lavas are similar to those of 25-16 Ma ultrapotassic volcanic rocks in the western Lhasa terrane. The 65-45 Ma alkali basalts in the western Qiangtang terrane, along with widespread calc-alkaline volcanic rocks of this age in the Lhasa terrane, may be related to roll-back of a previously shallow north-dipping slab of Tethyan oceanic lithosphere beneath Tibet. Subduction as opposed to convective thinning of continental lithosphere is favored to explain potassic volcanism in Tibet because of its occurrence in distinct, east-west-trending belts (45-29 Ma in the Qiangtang terrane; 25-17 Ma in the northern Lhasa terrane; 16-8 Ma in the southern Lhasa terrane) and temporal and spatial relationships with major thrust systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1833-1865
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Petrology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2003



  • Continental subduction
  • Geochemistry
  • Indo-Asian collision
  • Sodic and potassic volcanism
  • Tibet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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