The northeastern Tibetan Plateau constitutes a transitional region between the low-relief physiographic plateau to the south and the high-relief ranges of the Qilian Shan to the north. Cenozoic deformation across this margin of the plateau is associated with localized growth of fault-cored mountain ranges and associated basins. Herein, we combine detailed structural analysis of the geometry of range-bounding faults and deformation of foreland basin strata with geomorphic and exhumational records of erosion in hanging-wall ranges in order to investigate the magnitude, timing, and style of deformation along the two primary fault systems, the Qinghai Nan Shan and the Gonghe Nan Shan. Structural mapping shows that both ranges have developed above imbricate fans of listric thrust faults, which sole into décollements in the middle crust. Restoration of shortening along balanced cross sections suggests a minimum of 0.8–2.2 km and 5.1–6.9 km of shortening, respectively. Growth strata in the associated foreland basin record the onset of deformation on the two fault systems at ca. 6–10 Ma and ca. 7–10 Ma, respectively, and thus our analysis suggests late Cenozoic shortening rates of 0.2 +0.2/–0.1 km/m.y. and 0.7 +0.3/–0.2 km/m.y. along the north and south sides of Gonghe Basin. Along the Qinghai Nan Shan, these rates are similar to late Pleistocene slip rates of ∼0.10 ± 0.04 mm/yr, derived from restoration and dating of a deformed alluvial-fan surface. Collectively, our results imply that deformation along both flanks of the doubly vergent Qilian Shan–Nan Shan initiated by ca. 10 Ma and that subsequent shortening has been relatively steady since that time.
- Received 3 January 2014.
- Revision received 1 August 2014.
- Accepted 29 September 2014.
- © 2014 Geological Society of America