Geological Society of America
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We present here bulk sediment major element chemistry, Nd and Sr isotope ratios, and detrital apatite fission-track (AFT) and U-Pb zircon ages to characterize the provenance of the southwestern Taklimakan Desert (northwest China) and the three major rivers draining this region. We establish the spatial and temporal controls on erosion and sediment transport in the modern Tibetan rain shadow. The Hotan River drains the North Kunlun block and is characterized by zircon populations at 160–230 Ma and 370–520 Ma. The Yarkand River shares these grains with the Hotan, but also has a very prominent zircon population at 40–160 Ma, which is common in Karakoram basement, indicating heavy sediment flux from these ranges to that drainage. This implies a strong control on erosion by topographic steepness and precipitation mediated through glaciation. Our zircon data confirm earlier studies that indicated that the Taklimakan sand is derived from both the Kunlun and Pamir Mountains. AFT ages are younger in the Hotan River than in the Kashgar River, which drains the Pamir, and in both are younger than in the Transhimalaya and parts of the western edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Exhumation is estimated at ∼1000 m/m.y. in the North Kunlun and ∼500 m/m.y. in the eastern Pamir, which have been exhuming more slowly than the western ranges in the recent past. Holocene aggradation terracing was dated using quartz optically stimulated luminescence methods and is mostly associated with times of fluctuating climate after 4 ka, with phases of valley filling dated at 2.6, 1.4, and 0.4 ka. The heights and volumes of the terraces show that sediment storage in the mountains is not a significant buffer to sediment transport, in contrast to the more monsoonal Indus system directly to the south. South of the Mazatag Ridge a significant eolian deposit accumulated ∼500 yr ago, but this has been deflated in more recent times. Comparison of the modern river data with those previously measured from Cenozoic foreland sedimentary rocks shows that no sediment similar to that of the modern Yarkand River is seen in the geologic record, which is inferred to be younger than 11 Ma, and probably much less. Uplift of the North Kunlun had started by ca. 17 Ma, somewhat after that of the Pamir and Songpan Garze of northwestern Tibet, dated to before 24 Ma. Sediment from the Kunlun reached the foreland basin between 14 and 11 Ma. North Kunlun exhumation accelerated before 3.7 Ma, likely linked to faster rock uplift.
Clift. P.D., Zheng, H., Carter, A., Boening, P., Jonell, T., Schorr, H., Shan, X., Pahnke, K., Wei, A., Rittenour, T., 2017. Controls on erosion in the western Tarin Basin: Implications for the uplift of northwest Tibet and the Parmir. Geosphere 13(5) 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1130/GES01378.1