Jean-Philippe Avouac photoJean-Philippe Avouac Professor of Geology:Director of the Tectonics Observatory:CaltechCaltech logo

Ge 277-Ge192 Continental deformation, Mountain Building in Central Asia

Winter Quarter 2006

Instructors: John Suppe, James Jackson and Jean-Philippe Avouac

Mondays, 2-3:30pm,  Location: Salvatori





This seminar course will discuss various topics in continental tectonics, including some topics which are currently controversial. A unifying theme will be the use of several different observational types, technologies or arguments to consider each question. The topics will include: 1. The nature of the continental lithosphere: what controls its rheology, composition, temperature structure and regional variations. 2. How velocity fields on the continents are accommodated by distributed faulting. 3. From kinematics to dynamics: what are the interesting problems and why are they difficult to address?

We will review mountain-building processes with some focus on the Tien Shan, an active intracontinental mountain belt in Central Asia, 1000km north of Tibet. The Tien Shan currently consumes about 40% of the Indian-Eurasian plate convergence and shows the greatest continental topographic extremes outside of the Himalaya, ranging from below sea level to over 7000m. We will select papers reviewing various aspect of this mountain range and we will contrast this example with other case examples.


We will be meeting once a week in Salvatori on Mondays from 2pm to 3:30pm.

The instructors will deliver some of the presentations but most topics will be given by students. Each student will be in charge of presenting one or two topics, based on a selection of articles, to the group over the 10 week course of the seminars. Each student will be asked to interact with the instructors ahead of the presentation.

Each student is expected to have read the key papers offered for discussion and to enter into the debate each week.

The ppt presentations, readings and additional papers will be made available on JPA ftp site (/home/ftp/pub/avouac/Ge277-2006).


Topics offered for discussion (potential key papers for discussions are indicated in bold):

- The nature of the continental lithosphere: what controls its rheology, composition, temperature structure and regional variations

Jackson, J. Mountain roots and the survival of cratons. Astronomy & Geophysics}, v46,233-236, 2005

Molnar, P., and Tapponnier, 1981, A possible dependence of the tectonic strength on the age of the crust in Asia: Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., v. 52, p. 107-114.

Hyndman, R. D., C. A. Currie, & S. p. Mazzotti, 2005, Subduction zone backarcs, mobile belts, and orogenic heat: GSA Today, v. 15, no. 2.  (Ideas on the thermal state before continent-continent collision.)

Cattin, R. et al., 2001, Gravity anomalies, crustal structure and thermo-mechanical support of the Himalaya of Central Nepal: Geophysical Journal International, v. 147, p. 381-392.

- Mountain building. General concepts.

Critical-taper wedge mechanics:

Suppe, 2006, Absolute fault and crustal strength from wedge mechanics, draft ms.

Davis, D. et al 1983, Mechanics of fold-and-thrust belts and accretionary wedges Journal of Geophysical Research, vol.88, no.B2, pp.1153-1172. (The original classic paper, with geologic motivation.)

Dahlen, F.A., 1990, Critical taper model of fold-and-thrust belts and accretionary wedges: Ann. Rev. Earth. Planet. Sci. v. 18, 55-99.  (Refined mathematical development.)

Critical-Taper kinematics (effects of erosional and sedimentary perturbations from critical taper):

Barr, Terence D., & F. A. Dahlen, 1990, Constraints on friction and stress in the Taiwan fold-and-thrust belt from heat flow and geochronology, Geology, vol. 8, pp111-115.  (The short version of the classic multi-paper study.)

Willett, S. D., 1999, Orogeny and orography: The effects of erosion on the structure of mountain belts: JGR, v. 104, 28,957-28,981.

Konstantinovskaia, E. & Malavielle J., 2005, Erosion and exhumation in accretionary orogens: experimental and geologic approaches: G cubed, v. 6, number 2.

Fuller, Willett & Brandon, in press, Geology (effects of sedimentation in stabilizing wedges).

- Central Asia tectonics. Distributed vs. localized deformation.

England, P. C., and G. Houseman, 1985, Role of lithospheric strength heterogeneities in the tectonics of Tibet and neighboring regions: Nature, v. 315, p. 297-301.

Avouac, J., and Tapponnier, P., 1993, Kinematic model of active deformation in central Asia: Geophys.Res.Lett., v. 20, p. 895-898.

Neil, E. A., and Houseman, G. A., 1997, Geodynamics of the Tarim Basin and the Tien Shan in central Asia: Tectonics, v. 16, p. 571-584.

Wang, et al. Q. Z., 2001, Present-day crustal deformation in China constrained by global positioning system measurements: Science, v. 294, p. 574-577.

Holt, W. E., Li, M., and Haines, A. J., 1995, Earthquake strain rates and instantaneous relative motions within central and eastern Asia: Geophys. J. Int., v. 122, p. 569--593.

Holt, W. E., et al., 2000, Velocity field in Asia inferred from Quaternary fault slip rates and Global Positioning System observations: Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, v. 105, p. 19185-19209.

Thatcher, W., 2003, GPS constraints on the kinematics of continental deformation: International Geology Review, v. 45, p. 191-212.

- Flow in the lower continental crust.

Avouac, J. P., and Burov, E. B., 1996, Erosion as a driving mechanism of intracontinental mountain growth: Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, v. 101, p. 17747-17769.

Bird, P. (1991) Lateral extrusion of lower crust from under high topography, in the isostatic limit. J. Geophys. Res., v96, 10,275-10,286.

Gratton, J. (1989) Crustal shortening, root spreading, isostasy, and the growth of orogenic belts. J. geophys. Res., v94, 15,627-15,634.

McKenzie, D. & Jackson J. (2002) Conditions for flow in the continental crust. Tectonics, v21(6), 1055.

 McKenzie, D., Nimmo, F., Jackson, J.A., Gans, P.B., & Miller, E.L. (2000) Characteristics and consequences of flow in the crust. J. Geophys. Res, v105, 11,029-11,046.

- Measuring active thrusting and folding from deformed geomorphic markers and growth strata.

Hubert-Ferrari, A. J. Suppe, R. Gonzalez-Mieres & X. Wang, 2006, Active folding of the landscape in the southern Tienshan, China: JGR (submitted—almost)

Daeron, M, et al, in prep, Kinematics of fault-tip folding from the modeling the structural and geomorphic record of deformation.

Thompson, S. C., et al., 2002, Late Quaternary slip rates across the central Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan, central Asia: Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, v. 107, p. art. no.-2203.

Molnar, P., et al., 1994, Quaternary Climate-Change and the Formation of River Terraces across Growing Anticlines on the North Flank of the Tien-Shan, China: Journal of Geology, v. 102, p. 583-602.

Poisson, B., and Avouac, J. P., 2004, Holocene hydrological changes inferred from alluvial stream entrenchment in North Tien Shan (Northwestern China): Journal of Geology, v. 112, p. 231-249.

- Deeply exhumed growth versions of the above plus controversy:

Ford, M., E. A. Williams, A. Artoni, J. Verges 7 S. Hardy, 1997, Progressive evolution of a fault-related fold pair from growth strata geometries: Sant Llorenç de Morunys, S. E. Pyrenees: Jour. Struct. Geol., v. 19, 413-441.

Suppe, J., F. Sabat, J. A. Muñoz, J. Poblet, E. Roca, & J. Verges, 1997, Bed-by-bed fold growth by kink-band migration: Sant Llorenç de Morunys, eastern Pyrenees: Jour. Struct. Geology, v. 19, 443-461.

- Climatic vs. tectonic significance of the sedimentary record

Peizhen, Z., Molnar, P., and Downs, W. R., 2001, Increased sedimentation rates and grain sizes 2-4 Myr ago due to the influence of climate change on erosion rates.: Nature, v. 410, p. 891-897.

Charreau, J., et al., in prep, The sedimentary record of Cenozoic erosion and tectonics.

Burbank, D. W., et al, 1988, Thrusting and gravel progradation in foreland basins: A test of post-thrusting gravel dispersal: Geology, v. 16, p. 1143-1146.

Harrison, T. M., Copeland, P., Hall, S. A., Quade, J., Burner, S., Ojha, T. P., and Kidd, W. S. F., 1993, Isotopic preservation of Himalayan/Tibetan uplift, denudation, and climatic histories of two molasse deposits: The Journal of Geology, v. 101, p. 157-175.

Hendrix, M. S., et al., 1992, Sedimentary record and climatic implications of recurrent deformation in the Tien Shan: Evidence from Mesozoic strata of the north Tarim, south Junggar, and Turpan basins, northwest China: Geol. Soc. of Am. Bull., v. 104, p. 53-79.

Lyon-Caen, H., and Molnar, P., 1985, Gravity anomalies, flexure of the Indian plate and the structure, support and evolution of the Himalaya and Ganga Basin: Tectonics, v. 4, p. 513-538.

Metivier, F., 2002, On the use of sedimentation rates in deciphering global change: Geophysical Research Letters, v. 29.

Simoes, M., J.P. Avouac, Investigating the kinematics of mountain-building in Taiwan from the analysis of the foreland basin and western foothills., to be submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research

- Additional papers on the Tien Shan and central Asia tectonics

Abdrakhmatov, K., et al, 1996, Relatively recent construction of the Tien Shan inferred from GPS measurements of present -day crustal deformation rates: Nature, v. 384.

Abdrakhmatov, K., Weldon, R., Thompson, S., Burbank, D. W., Rubin, C., Miller, M., and Molnar, P., 2001, Onset, style and current rate of shortening in the central Tien Shan, Kyrgyz Republic: Russian Geology and Geophysics, v. 42, p. 1585-1609.

Avouac, J. P., et al., 1993, Active Thrusting and Folding Along the Northern Tien-Shan and Late Cenozoic Rotation of the Tarim Relative to Dzungaria and Kazakhstan: Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, v. 98, p. 6755-6804.

Bullen, M. E., Burbank, D. W., and Garver, J. I., 2003, Building the Northern Tien Shan: Integrated thermal, structural, and topographic constraints: Journal Of Geology, v. 111, p. 149-165.

Chen, Y., et al., 1991, Paleomagnetic study of Mesozoic continental sediments along the northern Tien Shan (China) and heterogeneous strain in Central Asia: J. Geophys. Res., v. 96, p. 4065-4082.

Chen, Y., et al., 1993, The configuration of Asia prior to the collision of India: Cretaceous palaeomagnetic constraints: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 98, p. 21927-21941.

Métivier, F., and Gaudemer, Y., 1997, Mass transfer between eastern Tien Shan and adjacent basins (central Asia): constraints on regional tectonics and topography: Geophys. J. Int., v. 128, p. 1-17.

Molnar, P. and S. Ghose, Seismic moments of major earthquakes and the rate of shortening across the Tien Shan, Geophys. Res. Lett., 27, 2377-2380, 2000.

Reigber, et al., 2001, New  space geodetic constraints on the distribution of deformation in the Central Asia: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 91, p. 157-165.

Sobel, E. R., and Dumitru, T. A., 1997, Thrusting and exhumation around the margins of the western Tarim basin during the India-Asia collision: Jour. Geophys. Res., v. 102, p. 5043-5063.

Tapponnier, P., and Molnar, P., 1979, Active faulting and Cenozoic tectonics of the Tien Shan, Mongolia, and the Baykal regions: J. Geophys. Res., v. 84, p. 3425-59.

Windley, B. F., M.B. Allen, C., Zhang, Z.Y., Zhao, and G.R. Wang, 1990, Paleozoic accretion and Cenozoic redeformation of the Chinese Tien Shan range, central Asia: Geology, v. 18, p. 128-131.

Zheng, H. B., Powell, C. M., An, Z. S., Zhou, J., and Dong, G. R., 2000, Pliocene uplift of the northern Tibetan Plateau: Geology, v. 28, p. 715-718.

- Comparison with other mountain ranges

-         Himalaya

Avouac, J. P., 2003, Mountain building, erosion and the seismic cycle in the Nepal Himalaya., in Dmowska, R., ed., Advances in Geophysics.: Advances in Geophysics., Amsterdam, Elsevier.

-         Pyrenees

Beaumont, C.,  J. A. Muñoz, J. Hamilton & P. Fullsack, 2000, Factors controlling the Alpine evolution of the central Pyrenees inferred from a comparison of observations and geodynamical models: JGR, v. 105, 8121-8145. (a brilliant marriage of geological and geophysical observations and geodynamical models to show what makes the essence of the Pyrenees, which is a possible analog to the Tienshan—compare with Zhao et al 2003 section of the Tienshan.) 

-         Taiwan

Simoes, M., et al., Mountain-building in Taiwan: a thermo-kinematic model., to be submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research.  (Thermal-kinematic model of Taiwan, different from Barr & Dahlen.)

Barr, Terence D., & F. A. Dahlen, 1990, Constraints on friction and stress in the Taiwan fold-and-thrust belt from heat flow and geochronology, Geology, vol. 8, pp111-115.

Yue, L. F., J. Suppe * J-H Hung, 2005, Structural geology of a classic thrust belt earthquake:  the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake Taiwan (M=7.6): Jour. Structural Geol., v. 27, 2058-2083. (The incremental growth in a single earthquake and the best deep cross section of Taiwan.)

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