The late Miocene through present paleoelevation history of southwestern Tibet

J. E. Saylor, J. Quade, D. L. Dettman, P. G. DeCelles, P. A. Kapp, L. Ding

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161 Scopus citations


Recent research using stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen from carbonates and fossil teeth seems to support both a pre- and post-mid-Miocene uplift of the southern Tibetan Plateau. We examined this issue by analysis of well-preserved fossil mollusks and plant remains from the Zhada Basin in soudiwestern Tibet, which ranges in age from ∼9.2 to < 1 Ma. Based on δ 18O cc values from shell aragonite, we estimate that oxygen isotope ratios of Miocene - Pleistocene paleo-surface water (δ 18O psw) in Zhada Basin ranged from -24.5 to -2.2%. (VSMOW). The lowest of these calculated values are lower than δ 18O sw values [-17.9 to -11.9%. (VSMOW)] of modern water in the basin. The extremely low δ 18O psw values from fluvial mollusks and evaporatively elevated δ 18O psw values from lacustrine mollusks, show that the peaks surrounding the Zhada Basin were at elevations at least as high as, and possibly up to 1.5 km higher than today, and that conditions have been arid since at least 9 Ma. A decrease in elevation since the Miocene is not specifically predicted by any existing mechanical models for the development of the Tibetan Plateau. Paleoenvironmental modeling and physical evidence shows that the climate in Zhada Basin was cold and arid, indistinguishable from modern. The δ 13O pm values of well-preserved vascular plant material increase from -23.4 to -26.8 permit at the base of the Zhada Formation to as high as -8.4 permil above 250 to 300 m. This shift denotes the expansion of C 4 biomass in this high, arid watershed at ∼ 7 Ma, and thus corresponds to the C 3 - C 4 transition observed in Neogene deposits of the northern Indian sub-continent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-42
Number of pages42
JournalAmerican Journal of Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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