From cessation of south-directed mid-crust extrusion to onset of orogen-parallel extension, NW Nepal Himalaya
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Field mapping and, structural, microstructural, and chronological analyses confirm the existence of a segment of the Gurla-Mandhata-Humla fault, an orogen-parallel strike-slip dominated shear zone in the upper Karnali valley of northwestern Nepal. This shear zone forms the upper contact of, and cuts obliquely across the Greater Himalayan Sequence (GHS). Data from this study reveal two phases of GHS deformation. Phase 1 is characterized by U-Th-Pb monazite crystallization ages (~26–12 Ma, peak ~18–15 Ma), consistent with typical Neohimalayan metamorphic ages, and the final stages of south-directed extrusion of the GHS. Phase 2 is characterized by south-dipping high-strain foliations and intensely developed ESE-WNW trending, shallowly plunging mineral elongation lineations, indicating orogen-parallel extension. Thermochronology of muscovite defining these fabrics implies that the area was cooling and experiencing orogen-parallel extension by ~15–9 Ma. Mineral deformation mechanisms and quartz c-axis patterns of these fabrics record a rapid increase in temperature from ~350°C along the shear zone, to ~650°C at ~2.5 structural km below the shear zone. Such temperature gradients may be remnants of telescoped and/or flattened isotherms generated during south-directed extrusion of the GHS. Overprinting ESE-WNW fabrics record progressive deformation of the GHS at lower temperatures. Progressive deformation included a significant component of pure shear, as indicated by symmetric high-temperature quartz c-axis fabrics and a lower-temperature vorticity estimate (~59% pure shear). A transition in c-axis fabrics from type I to type II cross-girdles at ~ 1.2 km below the fault could indicate a transition from plane strain towards constriction. Together, these data suggest orogen-parallel extension was occurring as a result of transtension. This study reveals a transition from south-directed extrusion of the GHS to orogen-parallel extension between ~15–13 Ma. Comparing these data with tectonic events across the Himalaya reveals an orogen-wide middle Miocene transition, coeval with the uplift of eastern Tibet. This is consistent with interpretations invoking radial spreading of Tibet and east-directed lower-crustal flow to explain orogen-parallel extension. Our study leads to the suggestion that a transition affecting mid- to lower-crustal processes may be responsible for the cessation of south-directed extrusion of the GHS and onset of east-directed lower-crustal flow.