Midcrustal reflector on INDEPTH wide-angle profiles: An ophiolitic slab beneath the India-Asia suture in southern Tibet?

Yizhaq Makovsky, Simon L. Klemperer, Lothar Ratschbacher, Douglas Alsdorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The wide-angle seismic experiment of Project INDEPTH (International Deep Profiling of Tibet and the Himalayas) focused on the structure of the India-Asia continental collision suture (Yarlung Zangbo suture) in southern Tibet. Three-component portable seismographs recorded the explosive sources of the INDEPTH seismic reflection profile across the suture zone. We image a prominent subhorizontal reflector, the 'Yarlung Zangbo reflector' (YZR), dipping ~ 4°N at ~ 20-km depth beneath the outcrop position of the Yarlung Zangbo suture, with a total area of at least 90 x 80 km. Possible geological interpretations for the YZR include fault/shear zones, fluids (magmatic, metamorphic, or hydrothermal), or lithotectonic contacts. High-amplitude reflections off the YZR out to postcritical offsets and refracted phases with a velocity of ~ 7 km s-1 provide evidence that it is a solid-solid interface and the top of a mafic to ultramafic lithological unit. We suggest that the YZR is a Tethyan ophiolitic slab involving several kilometers of mafic-ultramafic rocks. We interpret the origin of the slab and its position in the midcrust in the context of the emplacement history of oceanic lithosphere and accreted material onto the northwestern and northern Indian passive margin and the tectonic history of the Yarlung Zangbo suture zone. The origin of the YZR body and its position in the midcrust are explained by the emplacement of an ophiolite nappe-accretionary wedge complex onto India's passive margin prior to continental collision, the subduction of this nappe complex beneath the forearc basin and the Asian (Gangdese) magmatic arc, and its further burial by the Gangdese arc from the north and the Indian passive margin sedimentary sequence from the south. Our model of the YZR constituting an ophiolitic sheet can explain several features of southern Tibetan tectonics, namely, the pre-collisional deformation within the northern Indian passive margin, the lack of strong deformation during collision, and the bivergent thrust belt along the suture zone and doming within central southern Tibet (e.g., Kangmar dome). Our interpretation implies that the Yarlung Zangbo suture is subhorizontal in the middle crust in southern Tibet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)793-808
Number of pages16
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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