Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds

25.07.2017

Geoscientists have long puzzled over the mechanism that created the Tibetan Plateau, but a new study finds that the landform's history may be controlled primarily by the strength of the tectonic plates whose collision prompted its uplift. Given that the region is one of the most seismically active areas in the world, understanding the plateau's geologic history could give scientists insight to modern day earthquake activity.

The new findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Even from space, the Tibetan Plateau appears huge. The massive highland, formed by the convergence of two continental plates, India and Asia, dwarfs other mountain ranges in height and breadth. Most other mountain ranges appear like narrow scars of raised flesh, while the Himalaya Plateau looks like a broad, asymmetrical scab surrounded by craggy peaks.


A topographic map of the area around the Tibetan Plateau, left, and the map view of the composite strong and weak Asian plate model, right. The composite plate strength model -- with the Asian plate stronger in the west (Tarim Basin) and weaker to the east -- results in a topography that is similar to what exists today.

Graphic courtesy of Lin Chen

"The asymmetric shape and complex subsurface structure of the Tibetan Plateau make its formation one of the most significant outstanding questions in the study of plate tectonics today," said University of Illinois geology professor and study co-author Lijun Liu.

In the classic model of Tibetan Plateau formation, a fast-moving Indian continental plate collides head-on with the relatively stationary Asian plate about 50 million years ago. The convergence is likely to have caused the Earth's crust to bunch up into the massive pile known as the Himalaya Mountains and Tibetan Plateau seen today, but this does not explain why the plateau is asymmetrical, Liu Said.

"The Tibetan Plateau is not uniformly wide," said Lin Chen, the lead author from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "The western side is very narrow and the eastern side is very broad -- something that many past models have failed to explain."Many of those past models have focused on the surface geology of the actual plateau region, Liu said, but the real story might be found further down, where the Asian and Indian plates meet.

"There is a huge change in topography on the plateau, or the Asian plate, while the landform and moving speed of the Indian plate along the collision zone are essentially the same from west to east," Liu said. "Why does the Asian plate vary so much?"

To address this question, Liu and his co-authors looked at what happens when tectonic plates made from rocks of different strengths collide. A series of 3-D computational continental collision models were used to test this idea.

"We looked at two scenarios -- a weak Asian plate and a strong Asian plate," said Liu. "We kept the incoming Indian plate strong in both models."

When the researchers let the models run, they found that a strong Asian plate scenario resulted in a narrow plateau. The weak Asian plate model produced a broad plateau, like what is seen today.

"We then ran a third scenario which is a composite of the strong and weak Asian plate models," said Liu. "An Asian plate with a strong western side and weak eastern side results in an orientation very similar to what we see today."

This model, besides predicting the surface topography, also helps explain some of the complex subsurface structure seen using seismic observation techniques.

"It is exciting to see that such a simple model leads to something close to what we observe today," Liu said. "The location of modern earthquake activity and land movement corresponds to what we predict with the model, as well."

###

The Strategic Priority Research Program (B) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Key Research and Development Project and the National Natural Science Foundation of China supported this study.

Editor's notes:

To reach Lijun Liu, call 217-300-0378; ljliu@illinois.edu

The paper "Crustal rheology controls on the Tibetan plateau formation during India-Asia convergence" is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15992

Media Contact

Lois E Yoksoulian
leyok@illinois.edu
217-244-2788

 @NewsAtIllinois

http://www.illinois.edu 

Lois E Yoksoulian | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Tibetan plate tectonics surface topography tectonic plates topography

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas
19.07.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events
19.07.2018 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>