Sedimentology, provenance and geochronology of the upper Cretaceous–lower Eocene western Xigaze forearc basin, southern Tibet



Located on the southern margin of the Lhasa terrane in southern Tibet, the Xigaze forearc basin records Cretaceous to lower Eocene sedimentation along the southern margin of Asia, prior to and during the initial stages of continental collision with the Tethyan Himalaya in the Early Eocene. We present new measured stratigraphic sections, totalling 4.5 km stratigraphic thickness, from a 60 km E–W segment of the western portion of the Xigaze forearc basin, northeast of the Lopu Kangri Range (29.8007° N, 84.91827° E). In addition, we apply U–Pb detrital zircon geochronology to constrain the provenance and maximum depositional ages of investigated strata. Stratigraphic ages range between ca. 88 and ca. 54 Ma and sedimentary facies indicate a shoaling-upward trend from deep-marine turbidites to fluvial deposits. Depositional environments of coeval Cretaceous strata along strike include deep-marine distal turbidites, slope-apron debris-flow deposits and marginal marine carbonates. This along-strike variability in facies suggests an irregular paleogeography of the Asian margin prior to collision. Paleocene–Eocene strata are composed of shallow marine carbonates with abundant foraminifera such as Nummulites-Discocyclina and Miscellanea-Daviesina and transition into fluvial deposits dated at ca. 54 Ma. Sandstone modal analyses, conglomerate clast compositions and detrital zircon U–Pb geochronology indicate that forearc detritus in this region was derived solely from the Gangdese magmatic arc to the north. In addition, U–Pb detrital zircon age spectra within the upper Xigaze forearc stratigraphy are similar to those from Eocene foreland basin strata south of the Indus-Yarlung suture near Sangdanlin, suggesting that the Xigaze forearc was a possible source of Sangdanlin detritus by ca. 55 Ma. We propose a model in which the Xigaze forearc prograded south over the accretionary prism and onto the advancing Tethyan Himalayan passive margin between 58 and 54 Ma, during late stage evolution of the forearc basin and the beginning of collision with the Tethyan Himalaya. The lack of documented forearc strata younger than ca. 51 Ma suggests that sedimentation in the forearc basin ceased at this time owing to uplift resulting from continued continental collision.