Tectonic evolution of a continental collision zone: A thermomechanical numerical model

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Abstract

[1] We model evolution of a continent-continent collision and draw some parallels with the tectonic evolution of the Himalaya. We use a large-scale visco-plasto-elastic thermomechanical model that has a free upper surface, accounts for erosion and deposition and allows for all modes of lithospheric deformation. For quartz/olivine rheology and 60 mm/yr convergence rate, the continental subduction is stable, and the model predicts three distinct phases. During the phase 1 (120 km or 6% of shortening), deformation is characterized by back thrusting around the suture zone. Some amount of delaminated lower crust accumulates at depth. During phase 2 (120 km–420 km or 6%–22% of shortening), this crustal root is exhumed (medium- to high-grade rocks) along a newly formed major thrust fault. This stage bears similarities with the period of coeval activity of the Main Central thrust and of the South Tibetan Detachment between 20–16 Myr ago. During phase 3 (>420 km or 22% of shortening), the crust is scraped off from the mantle lithosphere and is incorporated into large crustal wedge. Deformation is localized around frontal thrust faults. This kinematics should produce only low- to medium-grade exhumation. This stage might be compared with the tectonics that has prevailed in the Himalaya over the last 15 Myr allowing for the formation of the Lesser Himalaya. The experiment is conducted at constant convergence rate, which implies increasing compressive force. Considering that this force is constant in nature, this result may be equivalent to a slowing down of the convergence rate as was observed during the India-Asia collision.

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