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Snails tell of the rise and fall of the Tibetan Plateau

Date:
August 29, 2014
Source:
Geological Society of America
Summary:
The rise of the Tibetan plateau -- the largest topographic anomaly above sea level on Earth -- is important for both its profound effect on climate and its reflection of continental dynamics. Scientists have now employed a cutting-edge geochemical tool -- "clumped" isotope thermometry -- using modern and fossil snail shells to investigate the uplift history of the Zhada basin in southwestern Tibet.

The Tibetan Plateau.
Credit: NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center

The rise of the Tibetan plateau -- the largest topographic anomaly above sea level on Earth -- is important for both its profound effect on climate and its reflection of continental dynamics. In this study published in GSA Bulletin, Katharine Huntington and colleagues employ a cutting-edge geochemical tool -- "clumped" isotope thermometry -- using modern and fossil snail shells to investigate the uplift history of the Zhada basin in southwestern Tibet.

Views range widely on the timing of surface uplift of the Tibetan Plateau to its current high (~4.5 km) over more than 2.5 square kilometers. Specifically, interpretations differ on whether the modern high elevations were recently developed or are largely a continuation of high elevations developed prior to Indo-Asian collision in the Eocene.

Clumped isotope temperatures of modern and fossil snail shells record changing lake water temperatures over the last nine million years. This is a reflection of changes in surface temperature as a function of climate and elevation change. A key to their Zhada Basin paleo-elevation reconstructions is that Huntington and colleagues were able to contextualize them with sampling of modern and Holocene-age tufa and shells from a range of aquatic environments.

Huntington and colleagues find that the Zhada basin was significantly colder from three to nine million years ago, implying a loss of elevation of more than one kilometer since the Pliocene. While surprising given the extreme (~4 km) elevation of the basin today, the higher paleo-elevation helps explain paleontological evidence of cold-adapted mammals living in a high-elevation climate, and is probably the local expression of east-west extension across much of the southern Tibetan Plateau at this time.

Huntington and colleagues note that future studies could improve on their own initial "calibration" work with year-round monitoring of water temperature and a focus on specific taxa and their micro-habitat preferences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Geological Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. K. W. Huntington, J. Saylor, J. Quade, A. M. Hudson. High late Miocene-Pliocene elevation of the Zhada Basin, southwestern Tibetan Plateau, from carbonate clumped isotope thermometry. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 2014; DOI: 10.1130/B31000.1

Cite This Page:

Geological Society of America. "Snails tell of the rise and fall of the Tibetan Plateau." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140829083851.htm>.
Geological Society of America. (2014, August 29). Snails tell of the rise and fall of the Tibetan Plateau. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140829083851.htm
Geological Society of America. "Snails tell of the rise and fall of the Tibetan Plateau." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140829083851.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

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