The Pamir is the western continuation of Tibet and the site of some of the highest mountains on Earth, yet comparatively little is known about its crustal and tectonic evolution and erosional history. Both Tibet and the Pamir are characterized by similar terranes and sutures that can be correlated along strike, although the details of such correlations remain controversial. The erosional history of the Pamir with respect to Tibet is significantly different as well: Most of Tibet has been characterized by internal drainage and low erosion rates since the early Cenozoic; in contrast, the Pamir is externally drained and topographically more rugged, and it has a strongly asymmetric drainage pattern. Here, we report 700 new U-Pb and Lu-Hf isotope determinations and >300 40Ar/39Ar ages from detrital minerals derived from rivers in China draining the northeastern Pamir and >1000 apatite fission-track (AFT) ages from 12 rivers in Tajikistan and China draining the northeastern, central, and southern Pamir. U-Pb ages from rivers draining the northeastern Pamir are Mesozoic to Proterozoic and show affinity with the Songpan-Ganzi terrane of northern Tibet, whereas rivers draining the central and southern Pamir are mainly Mesozoic and show some affinity with the Qiangtang terrane of central Tibet. The εHf values are juvenile, between 15 and −5, for the northeastern Pamir and juvenile to moderately evolved, between 10 and −40, for the central and southern Pamir. Detrital mica 40Ar/39Ar ages for the northeastern Pamir (eastern drainages) are generally older than ages from the central and southern Pamir (western drainages), indicating younger or lower-magnitude exhumation of the northeastern Pamir compared to the central and southern Pamir. AFT data show strong Miocene–Pliocene signals at the orogen scale, indicating rapid erosion at the regional scale. Despite localized exhumation of the Mustagh-Ata and Kongur-Shan domes, average erosion rates for the northeastern Pamir are up to one order of magnitude lower than erosion rates recorded by the central and southern Pamir. Deeper exhumation of the central and southern Pamir is associated with tectonic exhumation of central Pamir domes. Deeper exhumation coincides with western and asymmetric drainages and with higher precipitation today, suggesting an orographic effect on exhumation. A younging-southward trend of cooling ages may reflect tectonic processes. Overall, cooling ages derived from the Pamir are younger than ages recorded in Tibet, indicating younger and higher magnitudes of erosion in the Pamir.
- Received 23 December 2014.
- Revision received 30 May 2014.
- Accepted 24 July 2014.
- © 2014 Geological Society of America