Insights into the early Tibetan Plateau from (U–Th)/He thermochronology
The central Songpan–Ganzi belt, located on the eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, has a similar high elevation and low relief to parts of central Tibet. Thermochronological studies from the central Tibetan Plateau reveal a history of slow exhumation (rates <0.05kmMa−1) since 45Ma; however, the exhumation history of the central Songpan–Ganzi belt is unknown. To address this, we conducted an apatite and zircon (U–Th)/He thermochronology study of bedrock samples collected across the central Songpan–Ganzi belt and into central parts of the Tibetan Plateau. Zircon (U–Th)/He ages range from 54.2±7.5 to 146.5±10.0Ma and the majority of apatite (U–Th)/He ages fall between 74.7±19.0 and 35.7±9.4Ma. Thermal history models of these data show rapid cooling in the late Mesozoic and much slower cooling diagnostic of low rates of erosion throughout most of the Cenozoic. The late Mesozoic rapid cooling is consistent with the existence of significant topography and relief at least in some parts of the Songpan–Ganzi belt at that time. We find no evidence for a regional Miocene acceleration in erosion, although three samples from the headwaters of the Salween and Mekong rivers gave younger AHe ages between 15 and 16Ma that reflect an acceleration in river incision.