Tibetan Apples and Oranges: Surficial Sutures and Overlapping Lithospheres
Abstract:Multi-scale, finite-frequency tomography across the Himalayas-Tibet shows a clear, subhorizontal anomaly of high VP and VSin the upper mantle that can be traced from under N. India all the way to beneath central Tibet. This configuration of the “Greater India” (GI), or the submerged, northern portion of the Indian shield, is combined with other constraints to reconstruct position of the Indian lithospheric mantle (ILM) relative to Asia back to about 15 Ma ago, or the onset of the latest magmatic activity in Tibet. By then, the leading edge of the ILM (Indian mantle front, IMF) has advanced subhorizontally past the entire Lhasa terrane and also probably have caused the lithospheric mantle beneath the Qiangtang terrane to thicken. The thickening is likely to have led to Rayleigh-Taylor instability, causing widespread but small volume of magmatic activity in northern Tibet.
Meanwhile, the detached lithospheric mantle foundered through the upper mantle to rest at the bottom of the mantle transition zone (MTZ), just above the lower mantle. This detached lithospheric mantle manifests itself as a large-scale seismic anomaly of high compressional wave speed (VP) but curiously is undetectable through shear-waves. Based on laboratory data for nominally anhydrous olivine and its high-pressure polymorphs (NAO), the discordant results between P- and S-waves is explained by abundant hydroxyls in the foundered lithospheric mantle, a hypothesis supported by other evidences as well. Since NAO can hold ~1 wt% of water throughout the upper mantle and the MTZ, foundering of thickened lithospheric mantle caused by continental collision is an under-appreciated but effective pathway for water to enter the deep mantle.
Currently, the Indus-Yarlung suture between northern India and the Lhasa terrane appears to be an inactive, crustal feature, as the GI continues to pass beneath it. On the other hand, even though the IMF has now advanced northward beyond the Bangong-Nujiang suture (BNS), which marks the suture between the Lhasa (southern Tibet) and the Qiangtang terranes (central Tibet) in the Mesozoic, the BNS seems to have been a zone of deformation over lithospheric scale when the IMF interacted with the Qiangtang lithosphere about 15 Ma ago. Indeed the Moho around this zone is highly disturbed, a feature not found elsewhere under Tibet.