Seismic tomography of northern Tibet and Kunlun: Evidence for crustal blocks and mantle velocity contrasts

TitleSeismic tomography of northern Tibet and Kunlun: Evidence for crustal blocks and mantle velocity contrasts
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsWittlinger G, Masson F, Poupinet G, Tapponnier P, Jiang M, Herquel G, Guilbert J, Achauer U, Xue G, Shi D
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Date PublishedMar
ISBN Number0012-821X
Accession NumberWOS:A1996UL65200019

Although the crust and mantle of the Tibet Plateau reveal vital information for understanding the interplay of dynamic processes that has governed its recent uplift and growth, their deep, physical and thermal structure remains poorly understood. In order to throw light on the structure and, hence, to constrain the processes and models tied to them, we performed a teleseismic experiment on a 600 km long profile across the northern part of the plateau, the Kunlun range and the Qaidam basin, The 400 km deep tomographic image we obtain has a resolution < 50 km, over one order of magnitude better than achieved in previous, broader-scale studies. At relatively shallow depth (< 100 km), the tomographic cross-section clearly reveals that the mid-lower crust and upper lithosphere of northern Tibet is an assemblage of blocks with different velocities and thicknesses; hence different natures, histories and ages. The crust of the Qiantang block appears to be thickest (approximate to 70 km), with the lowest velocity. Along the north edge of that block, the Jinsha suture, although not remarkable in the local geology and topography, stands as a particularly sharp and prominent crustal boundary. The crust and lithosphere of the region between that suture and the Qaidam (Bayan Har-Songpan, South Kunlun) appear to be thinnest (approximate to 50 km) and with the highest velocity. At greater depth (> 150 km), our experiment confirms the existence of a bulky low-velocity zone in the mantle beneath the northernmost reaches of the plateau. The tomogram helps assess with unprecedented accuracy the location and shape of this low-velocity anomaly, which forms a 250-300 km wide dome rising to about 150-200 km, south of the Kunlun range. roughly coincident with the region where the strongest shear-wave splitting, hence horizontal anisotropy, has recently been found. That dome lies between two relatively high velocity zones with opposite dips, one towards the north, under the Qaidam basin, the other towards the south, beneath the Qiangtang platform. The implications that this new, detailed image of the deep structure of northern Tibet has upon the uplift and thermo-mechanical evolution of the plateau are discussed.