MILLENNIAL SLIP-RATES ALONG THE EASTERN KUNLUN FAULT AND RAPID EVOLUTION OF CHANNEL MORPHOLOGY IN THE YELLOW RIVER HEADWATERS, NORTHEASTERN TIBET, CHINA

Open Access
Author:
Harkins, Nathan Ward
Graduate Program:
Geosciences
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
September 13, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Eric Kirby, Dissertation Advisor
  • Eric Kirby, Committee Chair
  • Donald Myron Fisher, Committee Member
  • Kevin Patrick Furlong, Committee Member
  • Douglas Miller, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • fluvial geomorphology
  • strike-slip faulting
  • tibet
  • active tectonics
  • Geomorphology
  • Yellow River
Abstract:
A mechanical description of the interplay between ongoing crustal deformation and topographic evolution within the Tibetan Plateau remains outstanding, and thus our ability to describe the mechanisms responsible for the creation of this and other continental plateaus is limited. In this work, we employ a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the Quaternary record of active tectonism and coeval topographic evolution in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Fluvial channel topographic data paired with geochronologically calibrated measures of erosion rate reveal a headward migrating wave of dramatically accelerated incision rates in the headwaters of the Yellow River, which drains a large portion of northeastern Tibet. This transient increase in incision is likely driven by downstream base-level changes along the plateau margin and is superimposed onto a broad region of higher erosion rates confined to the plateau itself, within the Anyemaqen Shan (mountains). The Kunlun fault, one of the major active strike-slip faults of Tibet, trends through the Anyemaqen Shan. Using a careful approach towards quantifying millennial slip-rates along this fault zone based on the age of offset landforms, we constrain the Pleistocene kinematics of the eastern portion of the Kunlun fault and link this deformation to tectonically-driven erosion in the Anyemaqen Shan. Consideration of the age and morphology of fluvial terraces offset by the fault both highlights uncertainties associated with slip-rate determinations and allow more confident quantification of the allowable range of slip-rates at sites that take advantage of these features. Several new slip-rate determinations from this study at select locations corroborate a small number of previous determinations to identify an eastward decreasing slip-rate gradient and termination of the Kunlun fault within the Anyemaqen Shan. Existing geodetic data reveals a similar pattern of eastward-decreasing distributed shear across the fault zone. The spatial coincidence of tectonically driven erosion in the Anyemaqen Shan with the slip-rate gradient and termination the Kunlun fault implies that the crust of the northeastern plateau has the ability to accumulate regionally distributed permanent strain. Therefore, traditional ‘rigid-body’ rotation type descriptions of Tibetan Plateau kinematics fail to describe deformation on the northeastern plateau.