The Yarlung suture Mélange, Lopu Range, southern Tibet: Provenance of sandstone blocks and transition from oceanic subduction to continental collision
With the aim of better understanding the history of ocean closure and suturing between India and Asia, we conducted a geologic investigation of a siliciclastic matrix tectonic mélange within the western Yarlung suture zone of southern Tibet (Lopu Range region, ~ 50 km northwest of Saga). The siliciclastic matrix mélange includes abundant blocks of ocean plate stratigraphy and sparse blocks of sandstone. Metapelite and metabasite blocks in the mélange exhibit lower greenschist facies mineral assemblages, indicating that they were not deeply subducted. We obtained detrital zircon U-Pb geochronologic and sandstone petrographic data from sandstone blocks in the mélange and sandstone beds from Tethyan Himalaya strata exposed to the south of the suture. The sandstones from both units are all similar in U-Pb detrital zircon age spectra and petrography to the nearby Tethyan Cretaceous–Paleocene Sangdanlin section, which records the earliest appearance (at ~ 59 Ma) of arc-affinity strata deposited conformably on Indian-affinity strata. Two Paleocene sandstones, one of which is a schistose block incorporated in the siliciclastic matrix mélange, yielded indistinguishable maximum depositional ages of ~ 59 Ma. Mesozoic Asian-affinity sandstone blocks previously documented in the siliciclastic matrix mélange 200–500 km along strike to the east are notably absent in the Lopu Range region. We documented a gradational transition in structural style from the block-in-matrix mélange in the northeast to the south-vergent Tethyan thrust belt in the southwest. Blocks of Tethyan Himalaya strata increase in size and the volumetric proportion of matrix decreases from northeast to southwest. We conclude that no arc-affinity sandstone blocks were incorporated into the subduction complex until India-Asia collision at ~ 59 Ma when the Xigaze forearc basin became overfilled and Tethyan Himalaya strata entered the trench. As collision progressed, there was a gradual transition in structural style from block-in-matrix mélange formation to imbricate-style thrust belt formation.