The spectacular rift valleys of the Tibetan plateau dont all run north-south as previously thought, according to new research.
A satellites-eye-view of India and Tibet. Image from NASAs Terra satellite. Photo credit: NASA
The rift valleys actually curve away -- some to the east, some to the west -- from the point where India is punching into the gut of Tibet. "Everyone looked at the rifts and said they went north-south," said Paul Kapp, assistant professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "I looked and said -- theyre not." His work contradicts a leading theory that suggests the rifts are a consequence of Tibet flowing slowly out over Indias northern edge.
The new research indicates the Tibetan plateau is being compressed between the Indian subcontinent to the south and the solid wall of the North China block. As a result, Tibet is splitting much like an orange squeezed by a vise. Kapps research challenges the idea that the 16,000-foot-high Tibetan plateau, the highest-elevation region on Earth, is losing elevation. Previous research reported the Tibetan plateau reached its highest elevation eight million years ago and is now slowly deflating as it spreads out over India. "My hypothesis predicts that the plateau is getting higher. The other theory suggests the plateau is collapsing," he said. "Were in a place where continents are slamming against each other. Instead of Tibet crumpling like an accordion, we see these rift valleys. The rifts are from the east-west stretching of the plateau."
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