The time-space patterns of deformation throughout the Indo-Asian collision zone can place constraints on the processes responsible for the development of high topography. Although most agree that high topography associated with the Tibetan Plateau expanded throughout the Cenozoic, it is increasingly being recognized that portions of the present-day plateau experienced a protracted history of deformation starting before or shortly after collision. Deciphering the history of deformation in these regions is central to understanding the dynamics of plateau formation. Here, we report new constraints on the timing of shortening along the southern margin of the Gonghe Basin complex, a broad Tertiary–Quaternary depocenter within the interior region of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Deformation of basin strata, lithostratigraphic patterns, and changes in paleocurrents record the growth of structures along the southern margin of the basin. A novel combination of magnetostratigraphy and cosmogenic burial ages from fluvial deposits provides a chronology that suggests that sediment accumulation initiated at ca. 20 Ma and that indicates the basin-bounding structures became active during the late Miocene, between ca. 10 and 7 Ma. The probable onset of basin development in the early Miocene is similar to other regions of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau, and it appears to herald the onset of widespread contractional deformation in the region. Moreover, late Miocene activity on thrusts bounding the southern margin of Gonghe Basin was broadly synchronous with the rise of mountain ranges elsewhere along the periphery of the plateau, suggesting a coordinated pulse of growth of high topography during this time.
- Received 7 June 2011.
- Revision received 21 October 2011.
- Accepted 25 October 2011.
- © 2011 Geological Society of America