The role of major strike-slip faults in the Indo-Asian collision zone is central to our understanding of the ways in which continental crust and lithosphere deform in response to continental collision. We investigated how slip varies along the eastern segments of the Kunlun fault in northeastern Tibet. Millennial slip rates were determined based on landforms that are offset by the fault and that were dated using a combination of 14C and cosmogenic radionuclide exposure dating techniques. We developed estimates for slip rates at four new locations along the fault in addition to four previously published sites. All of these sites are located along the eastern 300 km of the fault system, and our results reveal a systematic eastward decrease in slip rate along this portion of the fault since the late Pleistocene. This displacement gradient is consistent with the termination of the Kunlun fault near ∼102°E. Coincident variations in fault slip rates and geometry reflect complex kinematics along the fault zone. Although other faults exist in the region, our observations suggest that none of these accomplishes transfer of slip from the primary Kunlun fault system. Instead, we interpret that either the eastern Kunlun fault is relatively young and propagating eastward, or that left-lateral slip is absorbed by interaction of the fault zone with regional rotation of the eastern fault tip. Both of these scenarios contrast with previous interpretations and indicate that the Kunlun fault does not accommodate the eastward extrusion of the central Tibetan Plateau lithosphere.
- Received 1 November 2009.
- Revision received 18 April 2010.
- Accepted 18 May 2010.
- © 2010 Geological Society of America