Science in China Series D: Earth Sciences

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 27–41 | Cite as

An alternative tectonic model for the Yarlung Zangbo suture zone

  • XiaoHan Liu
  • YiTai Ju
  • LiJie Wei
  • GuangWei Li


The new field investigations along the Yarlung Zangbo ophiolites zone show that these series underwent low green-schist metamorphism and were then fractured and occurred as slabs in tectonic melanges, without regional tectonic polarity. No large shear zone in north-south direction has been identified between ophiolite bodies and flysch layers on both side and a conformable contact relationship can be observed locally between them. A great mass of tectonic mélange has been substantiated as submarine olistolith bodies. The Mesozoic sedimentary facies and its evolution in both north and south of the ophiolite zone are corresponding in time. The ophiolite zone has often been divided into parallel branches, separated by narrow flysch slats. There is also a similarity of the Paleozoic and the basement of the High Himalaya, Lhasa and Qiangtang Terranes, and they are distinctly different from those of the Indian continent. The geologic information does not warrant a postulate that the Himalaya and Tibet were once separated by a great ocean; it is therefore consistent with an alternative tectonic model by back-arc basin collapse with its juvenile narrow oceanic crust. The real plate tectonic suture, the Neotethys might be covered under the Miocene Siwalik molasse in the southern slope of the High Himalaya range. Based on the new model, the Neotethyan ocean floor was subducted beneath the Asia since the Late Triassic. The outer continental margin of Eurasia was split from the Lhasa Terrane so that a back-arc basin came into existence. Hemi-pelagic and deep sea sediments were deposited before the Late Cretaceous flysch sedimentation, with the linear juvenile oceanic crust when back-arc volcanism occurred in the Gandese region. The Yarlung Zangbo back-arc basin was eventually eliminated when the High Himalayas were sutured onto Eurasia. The ocean floor lightly underthrusted to north and south sides, sediments of the basin were deformed as fold-thrusting. The Neotethys was eliminated during the Tertiary when India collided with Himalaya arc from the Oligocene. The crust of southern Tibet suffered penetrative shortening, the ophiolite zone became exposed during regional uplifting, and the South Tibet Detachment System, doming in southern Tibet and rifting in a north-south direction since the Middle Miocene Epoch.


Yarlung Zangbo Ophiolite Zone plate boundary continental marginal arc relic back-arc basin alternative tectonic model 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Gansser A. Geology of the Himalayas. John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 1964. 289Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gansser A. The Indian Ocean and the Himalayas-A geological interpretation. Eclog Geol Helv, 1966, 59: 832–848Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gansser A. The ophiolitic mélange, a world-wide problem on Tethyan Examples. Eclog Geol Helv, 1975, 67: 3Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Nicolas A, Girardeau J, Marcoux J, et al. The Xigaze pohiolite: A peculiar oceanic lithosphere. Nature, 1981, 294: 414–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Shackleton R M. Structure of southern Tibet: Report on a traverse from Lhasa to Katmandu organized by Acadimia Sinica. J Struct Geol, 1981, 3: 97–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Tapponnier P. The Tibetan side of the India-Eurasia collision. Nature, 1981, 294: 405–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Li G, Mercier J L. Achivement of Sino-French Mission in Himalaya-1980. Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 1984. 1–237Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Burg J P, Chen G. Tectonics and structure zonation of southern Tibet, China. Nature, 1984, 311: 219–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Burg J P, Marcoux J, Cheng G. Wildflysch and exotic blocks along the Yalung Zangbo suture zone: Age and geodynamic significance. Terra Cognit, 1985, 5: 125Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Burg J P, Leyreloup A, Girardeau J, et al. Structure and metamorphism of a tectonically thickened continental crust: The Yalu Tsangpo suture zone (Tibet). Philos Trans R Soc A-Math Phys Eng Sci, 1987, 321: 67–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Allegre C J, Courtillot V, Tapponnier P, et al. Structure and evolution of the Himalayan-Tibet orogenic belt. Nature, 1984, 307: 17–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Girardeau J, Marcoux J, Zao Y. Lithologic and tectonic environment of the Xigaze ophiolite (Yarlung Zangbo suture zone, southern Tibet, China), and kinematics of its emplacement. Eclogae Geol Helv, 1984, 77: 153–170Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Girardeau J, Mercier J C C, Zao Y. Structure of the Xigaze ophiolite, Yarlung Zangbo suture zone, southern Tibet, China: Genetic implications. Tectonics, 1985, 4: 267–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Mercier J C C. The ophiolite sequence in central segment of the Yarlung Zangbo and a model of quick evolution of oceanic crust. In: Mercier J L, Li G C, eds. Mission Franco-Chinese in Tibet 1980 (in French). Paris: Cent Natl Rech Sci, 1984. 181–220Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Xiao X. Xigaze ophiolite and relevant tectonic view in south Tibet (in Chinese). In: Li G, Mercier J L, eds. Achivement of Sino-French Mission in Himalaya-1980. Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 1984. 143–168Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Xiao X, Li T, Li G. Tectonic evolution in the Himalayan lithosphere (in Chinese). Special issue of Geology (7). Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 1988. 1–236Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Klootwijk C T, Conaghan P J, Powell C M. The Himalayan Arc: Large-scale continental subduction, oroclinal bending and backarc spreading. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 1985, 75: 167–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Chang C F, Chen N, Coward M P, et al. Preliminary conclusions of the Royal Society and Academia Sinica 1985 geotraverse of Tibet. Nature, 1986, 323: 501–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Yin J, Shun X, Wen C, et al. Mesozoic stratigraphy along the highway from Dangla pass in Gyirong County to Saga (Gya’gya) County in South Xizang. J Inst Geol Chin Acad Sci, 1988, 3: 80–95Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Le Pichon X, Fournier M, Jolivet L. Kinematics, topography, shortening, and extrusion in the India-Eurasia collision. Tectonics, 1992, 11: 1085–1098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Einsele G. The Xigaze forearc basin: Evolution and facies architecture (Cretaceous, Tibet). Sediment Geol, 1994, 90: 1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Dürr S B. Provenance of Xigaze fore-arc basin clastic rocks (Cretaceous, south Tibet). Geol Soc Am Bull, 1996, 108: 669–684CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Pan Y, Kong X. Structure, evolution and dynamics of the lithosphere in Tibetan Plateau (in Chinese). Guangzhou: Guangdong Science and Technology Press, 1998. 3–71Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Wang C, Yu G. Evolution of the Mesozoic sedimentary basins in the Yarlung Zangbo, Tibet (in Chinese). Bull Chengdu Geol College, 1988, 23(4): 40–45Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Wang C, Liu Z, Li X, et al. Xigaze Forearc Basin and Tsangpo Suture Zone, Tibet (in Chinese). Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 1999. 1–237Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Yin A, Harrison T M, Murphy M A, et al. Tertiary deformation history of southeastern and southwestern Tibet during the Indo-Asian collision. Geol Soc Am Bull, 1999, 111: 1644–1664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Yin A, Harrison T M. Geologic evolution of the Himalayan-Tibetan orogen. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci, 2000, 28: 211–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Harrison T M, Yin A, Grove M, et al. The Zedong Window: A record of superposed Tertiary convergence in southeastern Tibet. J Geophys Res, 2000, 105: 19211–19230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Miller C, Thoni M, Frank W, et al. Geochemistry and tectonomagmatic affinity of the Yungbwa ophiolite, SW Tibet. Lithos, 2003, 66: 155–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Hsü K J, Pan G T, Sengör A M C. Tectonic evolution of the Tibetan Plateau: A working hypothesis based on the archipelago model of orogenesis. Int Geol Rev, 1995, 37: 473–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Hsü K J, Sun S, Wang Q C, et al. Map of tectonic facies of China (1/4000000) (in Chinese). Beijing: Science Press, 1998. 1–155Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Xiao X C. Annotation of the tectonic evolution and uplift of Tibetan Plateau (in Chinese). Geol Rev, 1998, 44(4): 372–381Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Zheng L L, Geng Q R, Ou C S, et al. Geochemical character of vitro-andesite in the ophiolite of the Namcha Barwa region, south-east Tibet, and its geological application (in Chinese). Geol Bull China, 2003, 22(11–12): 908–911Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Geng Q R, Pan G T, Zheng L L, et al. Petrochemistry character and metamorphism condition of quartzite in the Yarlung Zangbo tectonic belt of Namcha Barwa region (in Chinese). Mineral Petrol, 2004, 24(1): 76–82Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Geng Q R, Pan G T, Zheng L L, et al. Mineralogical character and age of the Yarlung Zangbo tectonic belt of Namcha Barwa region (in Chinese). Sediment Tethys Geol, 2004, 24(2): 1–7Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Xu Z Q, Yang J S, Qi X Q, et al. India/Asia collision-Detachment structure in north-south and east-west direction, and re-discussion on the mechanism of Himalaya orogene (in Chinese). Geol Lett, 2006, 25: 1–14Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Xu Z Q, Yang J S, Li H B. Orogenic Plateau-terrane Amalgamation, Collision and Uplift in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (in Chinese). Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 2007. 29–36Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Xu Z Q, Yang J S, Li H B, et al. Tibetan Pjlateau and continental geodynamics, the deep force of the terrane patchwork, collisional orogenic and uplift (in Chinese). Chin Geol, 2006, 33(2): 221–238Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Pan G T, Wang L Q, Zhu D C. Consider for significant scientific questions in the regional geological survey of the Tibetan Plateau (in Chinese). Geol Bull, 2004, 23(1): 12–19Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Pan G T, Wang L Q, Yin F G. Charm of the plate tectonic theory on continent-From the study on archipelago-arc-basin (in Chinese). Geol Lett, 2004, (23): 9–10Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Pan G T, Ding J. Introduction of the Geological map of Tibetan Plateau and its vicinage (1/1500000) (in Chinese). Chengdu: Mapping Press, 2004. 1–133Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Aitchison J C, Badengzhu A, Davis M, et al. Remnants of a Cretaceous intra-oceanic subduction system within the Indus-Yarlung suture (southern Tibet). Earth Planet Sci Lett, 2000, 183: 231–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Aitchison J C, Abrajevitch A, Ali J R, et al. New insights into the evolution of the Yarlung Tsangpo suture zone, Xizang (Tibet), China. Episodes, 2002, 25(2): 90–94Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Aitchison J C, Davis A M. Evidence for the multiphase nature of the India-Asia collision from the Yarlung Tsangpo suture zone, Tibet. In: Malpas J, Fletcher C J N, eds. Aspects of the Tectonic Evolution of China. Geol Soc Spec Publ, 2004, 226: 217–233Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Aitchison J C, Ali J R, Davis A M. When and where did India and Asia collide? J Geophys Res, 2007, 112: B05423, doi: 10.1029/ 2006JB004706CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Wan X, Ding L. Discovery of the latest Cretaceous planktonic foraminifera from Gyirong of southern Tibet and its chrono-strati-graphic significance. Acta Palaeontol Sin, 2002, 41: 89–95Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ding L, Lai Q Z. New geological evidence of crustal thickening in the Gangdese block prior to the Indo-Asian collision. Chin Sci Bull, 2003, 48: 836–842Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Ding L, Kapp P, Wan X. Paleocene-Eocene record of ophiolite obduction and initial India-Asia collision, south central Tibet. Tectonics, 2005, 24: TC3001, 1–18, doi: 10.1029/2004 TC001729CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Liu K, Zhao W, Jiang W, et al. Where is the north boundary of the Indian Plate (in Chinese)? Geol Bull, 2006, 25(1–2): 43–47Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Li P, Cui J, Li L, et al. Estimation of shortening between the Siberian and Indian Plates since the Early Cretaceous. J Asian Earth Sci, 2002, 20: 241–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Li P, Gao R, Cui J, et al. Paleogeomagnetism analysis of the ages of main terranes collision in east Tibet and west Yunnan (in Chinese). Sediment Tethys Geol, 2003, 23(2): 28–34Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Ali J R, Aitchison J C. Greater India. Earth Sci Rev, 2005, 72: 169–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Wang X B, Bao P S, Deng W, et al. Xizang (Tibet) Ophiolite (in Chinese). Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 1987. 235–246Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Yin J X. Stratigraphical Geology of Gongdwana Facies in Tibetan Plateau and Adjacent (in Chinese). Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 1997Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Bao P S, Wang J. Petrology, geochemistry and its tectonic significance in the suture zone of Tibetan Plateau (in Chinese). In: Xiao X C, Li T D, eds. The Tectonic Evolution and Uplift Mechanism. Guangzhou: Guangdong Science and Technology Press, 2000. 137–189Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Hu J, et al. Report of Regional Geological Survey in Xigaze (1/250000) (in Chinese). Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 2002Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Zhu J, et al. Report of Regional Geological Survey in Lazi (1/250000) (in Chinese). Beijing: Geological Publishing House, 2003Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Wen S X. Cretaceous System in Stratigraphy of the Mount Qomolangma Region. Beijing: Science Press, 1987. 130–159Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Wen S X. Tertiary System in Stratigraphy of the Mount Qomolangma Region. Beijing: Science Press, 1987. 160–180Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Li X H, Wang C S, Hu X, et al. The Pengqu formation: A new Eocene stratigraphical unit in Tingri area, Tibet. J Sratigr, 2000, 24: 244–248Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Xu Y. Early Tertiary calcareous nannofossils from southern Tibet and the closing time of east Tethys in Tibet. Geoscience, 2000, 14: 255–262Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Li G B, Wan X Q. Eocene microfossil in southern Tibet and the final closing of the Tibet-Tethys. J Stratigr, 2003, 27: 99–108Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Wang C S, Li X H, Hu X M, et al. Latest marine horizon north of Qomolangma (Mt. Everest): Implications for closure of Tethys seaway and collision tectonics. Terra Nova, 2002, 14: 114–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. 64.
    Zeng L, Liang F, Xu Z, et al. Metapelites in the Himalayan orogenic belt and their protoliths. Acta Petrol Sin, 2008, 24(7): 1517–1527Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Liu X H. Structural feature of Yarlung Zangbo ophiolite zone and its tectonic significance (Abstract). The 20th Himalaya-Karakoram-Tibet Workshop. Geolog Alpine Mem, 2005, 44: 121Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Liu X H. Re-Examination of the Yarlung Zangbo Suture Zone: An Alternative Tectonic Model. Proceeding of the Himalaya-Kara-kunlun-Tibet Symposium, Hongkong, 2007. 63Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Fang A M, An Z S, Liu X H, et al. The age of the plant fossil assemblage in the Liuqu Conglomerate of southern Tibet and its tectonic significance. Prog Nat Sci, 2006, 16: 55–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. 68.
    Fang A M, Yan Z, Liu X H, et al. Plant fossil assemblage and its caracteristics of Liuqu conglomerate in south Tibet (in Chinese). Paleontol Bull, 2005, 44(3): 435–445Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Fang A M, Yan Z, Liu X H, et al. Age of the plant fossil assemblage and its tectonic significance of Liuqv conglomerate in south Tibet (in Chinese). Nat Sci Progr, 2004, 14(12): 1419–1427Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Maluski G, Proust F, Xiao X C. 39Ar/40Ar dating of the trans-Himalayan calc-alkaline magmatism of southern Tibet. Nature, 1982, 298: 152–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. 71.
    Schärer U, Xu R H, Allègre C J. U-Pb geochronology of Gandese (Transhimalaya) plutonism in the Lhasa-Xigaze region Tibet. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 1984, 69: 311–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. 72.
    Coulon C, Maluski H, Bollinger C, et al. Mesozoic and Cenozoic volcanic rocks from central and southern Tibet: 39Ar-40Ar dating, petrological characteristics and geodynamical significance. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 1986, 79: 281–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. 73.
    Debon F, Le Fort P, Sheppard S M, et al. The four plutonic belts of the Transhimalaya-Himalaya: A chemical, mineralogical, isotopic, and chronological synthesis along a Tibet-Nepal section. J Petrol, 1986, 27: 219–250Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Xu R, Schärer U, Allègre C J. Magmatism and metamorphism in the Lhasa block (Tibet): A geochronological study. J Geol, 1985, 93: 41–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. 75.
    Beck R A. Stratigraphic evidence for an early collision between northwest India and Asia. Nature, 1995, 373: 55–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. 76.
    Corfield R I, Searle M P, Pederson R B. Tectonic setting, origin and obduction history of the Spontang Ophiolite, Ladakh Himalaya, NW India. J Geol, 2001, 109: 715–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. 77.
    Ahmad T N, Harris B W, Islam R, et al. Contrasting mafic magmatism in the Shyok and Indus Suture Zones: Geochemical constraints. Himalayan Geol, 2005, 26: 33–40Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    Miller C, Thoni M, Frank W, et al. Geochemistry and tectonomagmatic affinity of the Yungbwa ophiolite, SW Tibet. Lithos, 2003, 66: 155–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. 79.
    Ratschbacher L W, Frisch G, Liu Z, et al. Distributed deformation in southern and western Tibet during and after the India-Asian collision. J Geophys Res, 1994, 99: 19917–19945CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. 80.
    Yin A, Harrison T M, Ryerson F J, et al. Tertiary structural evolution of Gengdese thrust system in southeastern Tibet. J Geophys Res, 1994, 99: 18175–18201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. 81.
    Quidelleur X, Grove M, Lovera O M, et al. Thermal evolution and slip history of the Renbu Zedong thrust, shoutheastern Tibet. J Geograph Res, 1997, 102: 2659–2679Google Scholar
  82. 82.
    Zhao W J, Zhao X. Progress of deep profile study in Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau. Geol Bull, 2002, 21(11): 691–700Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    Zhao W J, Nelson K D. Project INDEPTH Team. Deep seismic reflection evidence for continental underthructing beneath southern Tibet. Nature, 1993, 366: 557–559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. 84.
    De Celles P G, Robinson D M, Zandt G. Implication of shortening in the Himalayan fold-thrust belt for uplift of the Tibetan Plateau. Tectonics, 2002, 21: 1–25Google Scholar
  85. 85.
    Schult-Pelkum V, Monsalve G, Sheehan A, et al. Imaging the India subcontinent beneath the Himalaya. Nature, 2005, 435: 1222–1225, doi: 10.1038/03678CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Science in China Press and Springer Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Tibetan Plateau ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Mineral Resource Institute of China Metallurgical Geology BureauBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations