Uppermost Cretaceous to Eocene marine sedimentary sequences occur both to the south and north of the Yarlung Zangbo suture in south central Tibet. They consist of Indian-margin strata of the northern Tethyan Himalaya and Asian-margin strata of the Gangdese forearc. Both assemblages are characterized by major changes in depositional environment and sedimentary provenance at ∼65 Ma and an appearance of detrital chromium-rich spinel of ophiolite affinity (TiO2 generally <0.1 wt%) during the Paleocene. Ophiolitic melange exposed along the suture could have provided a source for detrital spinel. The melange occurs in the hanging wall of a north dipping, south directed mylonitic shear zone which includes a tectonic sliver of mafic schist. Amphibole from the schist yields 40Ar/39Ar ages of ∼63 Ma, which we attribute to cooling during slip along the shear zone and southward obduction of the melange. Melange obduction was coeval with the development of an angular unconformity within the Gangdese forearc basin to the north (between late Maastrichtian time and ∼62 Ma). Upper Paleocene to middle Eocene sandstones in the northern Tethyan Himalaya yield 200-120 Ma U-Pb detrital zircon ages and 190-170 Ma 40Ar/39Ar detrital mica ages. These detrital grains were most likely sourced from regions north of the Yarlung Zangbo suture, suggesting that onset of India-Asia collision in south central Tibet is middle Eocene or older in age. Collectively, our results support previous suggestions that oceanic rocks were obducted onto the northern margin of India during latest Cretaceous-earliest Tertiary time. Coeval changes in Gangdese forearc sedimentation raise the possibility that this obduction event marks onset of tectonic interaction between India and Asia at ∼65 Ma. Alternatively, in concert with the conventional view of Eocene collision initiation, the obducted oceanic rocks may be of intraoceanic origin, while coeval changes in Gangdese forearc sedimentation may be a consequence of an increase in the rate of ocean-continent convergence following the demise of the intraoceanic subduction zone.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology