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Provenance and palaeogeographic implications of detrital zircons from the lower Carboniferous Riwanchaka Formation of the central Tibetan Plateau

  • Hu Peng (a1) (a2), Chaoming Xie (a2), Cai Li (a2) and Zhongyue Zhang (a3)


The Longmu Co–Shuanghu suture zone, which divides the Qiangtang terrane into the northern and southern Qiangtang blocks, is regarded as a key locality in reconstructing the evolutionary history of the Palaeo-Tethys Ocean and the break-up of Gondwana. However, although low-temperature – high-pressure metamorphic rocks and ophiolites have been documented within the Longmu Co–Shuanghu suture zone, it remains unclear whether it is an in situ suture zone and represents the relic of the main Palaeo-Tethys Ocean. The uncertainty stems mainly from the limited systematic studies of the provenance, palaeontological evidence and depositional settings of strata on either side of the Longmu Co–Shuanghu suture zone (i.e. northern and southern Qiangtang blocks). Here we report new detrital zircon U–Pb ages and palaeontological data from Lower Carboniferous strata (Riwanchaka Formation) of the northern Qiangtang block, central Tibet. The Riwanchaka Formation contains warm-climate biota with Cathaysian affinities. Provenance analysis reveals that the formation has detrital zircon spectra similar to those from strata of the Yangtze Plate, and it contains a large proportion of zircons with ages (~360 Ma) similar to the timing of synsedimentary magmatic arc activity, implying an active continental margin setting associated with northward subduction of the Palaeo-Tethyan oceanic lithosphere. Conversely, the Carboniferous–Permian strata from the southern Qiangtang block contain cool-water faunas of Gondwanan affinity and exhibit minimum zircon crystallization ages that are markedly older than their depositional ages, suggesting a passive continental margin setting. The differences in provenance, palaeontological assemblages and depositional settings of the Carboniferous to Permian strata either side of the Longmu Co–Shuanghu suture zone indicate the existence of an ancient ocean between the northern and southern Qiangtang blocks. Combining the new findings with previous studies on high-pressure metamorphic rocks, arc magmatism and ophiolites, we support the interpretation that the Longmu Co–Shuanghu suture zone is an in situ suture zone that represents the main suture of the Palaeo-Tethys Ocean.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Chaoming Xie, Email:


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