Thursday, June 08, 2017

Seismic CT scan points to rapid uplift of Southern Tibet

[Scienmag] Using seismic data and supercomputers, Rice University geophysicists have conducted a massive seismic CT scan of the upper mantle beneath the Tibetan Plateau and concluded that the southern half of the “Roof of the World” formed in less than one-quarter of the time since the beginning of India-Eurasia continental collision.
The research, which appears online this week in the journal Nature Communications, finds that the high-elevation of Southern Tibet was largely achieved within 10 million years. Continental India’s tectonic collision with Asia began about 45 million years ago.
“The features that we see in our tomographic image are very different from what has been seen before using traditional seismic inversion techniques,” said Min Chen, the Rice research scientist who headed the project. “Because we used full waveform inversion to assimilate a large seismic data set, we were able to see more clearly how the upper-mantle lithosphere beneath Southern Tibet differs from that of the surrounding region. Our seismic image suggests that the Tibetan lithosphere thickened and formed a denser root that broke away and sank deeper into the mantle. We conclude that most of the uplift across Southern Tibet likely occurred when this lithospheric root broke away.”
The research could help answer longstanding questions about Tibet’s formation. Known as the “Roof of the World,” the Tibetan Plateau stands more than three miles above sea level. The basic story behind its creation — the tectonic collision between the Indian and Eurasian continents — is well-known to schoolchildren the world over, but the specific details have remained elusive. For example, what causes the plateau to rise and how does its high elevation impact Earth’s climate?
“The leading theory holds that the plateau rose continuously once the India-Eurasia continental collision began, and that the plateau is maintained by the northward motion of the Indian plate, which forces the plateau to shorten horizontally and move upward simultaneously,” said study co-author Fenglin Niu, a professor of Earth science at Rice. “Our findings support a different scenario, a more rapid and pulsed uplift of Southern Tibet.” Read More