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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.

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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.


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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 December 19, 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 December 19, 2014).

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