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Erosional control on the dynamics of low-convergence rate continental plateau margins

Abstract : S U M M A R Y Over the last decade, thermomechanical models have revealed the control of both tectonics and erosion on the morphology of continental plateaus margins. However, unravelling the specific effects of these two coupled processes has been difficult in practice. Here, to assess the control of erosion, we investigate the dynamics of the eastern and the northern borders of the Tibetan Plateau, which are characterized by a low convergence rate and a steep topographic escarpment adjacent to the Sichuan and Tarim basins, respectively. Thermomechanical modelling of continental lithosphere coupled with fluvial denudation reveals that important crustal deformation with large-scale horizontal displacements can occur, without any convergence, as a response to mass transfer due to gravitational collapse and to erosional unloading. These processes are sensitive to crustal structure, geothermal gradient as well as surface erosion. At a timescale of several million years, our results suggest that this denudation-triggered deformation exerts a primary control on the evolution of those plateau margins by counterbalancing the mass removal due to erosion and stabilizing the topographic escarpment. This finding supports a possible explanation for the morphology of the Longmen Shan, eastern Tibet, in which the paradoxical combination of persistent high-topographic gradients close to the foreland and low convergence rates can be related to the influence of erosion on deformation patterns.
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Vincent Godard, R Cattin, J Lavé. Erosional control on the dynamics of low-convergence rate continental plateau margins. Geophysical Journal International, Oxford University Press (OUP), 2009, 179, pp.763 - 777. ⟨10.1111/j.1365-246X.2009.04324.x⟩. ⟨hal-01577060⟩

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