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Researchers Reveal Evolution of Central Tibetan Valley

By: April Carson

Researchers have documented the evolution of the Central Tibetan Valley, an area known for its high quality panda habitat, by examining pollen and charcoal in sediment cores. The results allow researchers to better understand changes in plant communities during millennial time scales. These findings may help us better understand how forests will respond to future climate change.

The Central Tibetan Valley is a region in China's Qinghai province that has been known since antiquity. A new study led by Prof. Ding Lin from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has shown how the valley evolved over time, which may help to explain why the Tibetan Plateau formed.

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Since the 19th century, the growth of the Tibetan Plateau has attracted a lot of interest for its effects on regional and global climate and biodiversity. But the question of when and how this landscape developed has been debated.

Many researchers say that, about 40 million years ago, India started to move northwards and collided with Asia, pushing up the Tibetan Plateau in front like a snow plough.

According to previous studies, a wet and low-elevation Valley system existed between the high Gangdese Mountains on the southern margin of Eurasia and the Central Watershed Mountains in the north 60 million years ago (mya), before the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates.

As a result, the uplifting history of the Central Tibetan Valley has become a key to determining when and how Tibet began the transformation from "low and wet valley" to "high and dry" plateau that we know today.

Previous studies have shown that a wet and low-elevation Valley system existed between the high Gangdese Mountains on the southern margin of Eurasia and the Central Watershed Mountains in the north 60 mya, before the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates.

From 1997 to the present, Prof. Ding has led several field efforts in the Lunpola Basin at the heart of the Valley, which is now approximately 5,000 m high and has collected a large number of samples for radiometric dating and clumped isotope analysis to chronicle changes in surface height and climate over time.

The Niubao and Dingqing formations contained nine volcanic tuff layers, according to the researchers. The radiometric age of these volcanic tuffs was used to establish a consistent absolute age framework across Eocene and Oligocene sediments in the Lunpola Basin, which is critical for identifying the precise moment when plateau formed.

The Niubao Formation was deposited between 50 and 29 million years ago, while the overlying Dingqing Formation is thought to have been deposited between 29 and 20 million years ago.

To figure out how high the ancient land surface was, Ding's team utilized mathematical modeling parameters (such as soil moisture, precipitation, evaporation, and surface temperature) to determine when the paleosol nodules were most likely to have formed. They converted the clumped isotope temperature of paleosol nodules into decreasing wet-bulb air temperatures. Humidity changes while air passes over land surfaces; thus, it is a more accurate way to estimate past elevations.

To reconstruct the history of surface height changes in the Lunpola Basin, they utilized wet-bulb air temperatures derived from clumped isotopes, simulated sea-level wet-bulb temperatures, and wet-bulb ground surface temperature lapse rates.

The discovery of fossil fish and a crocodilian species, as well as gastropod remains indicate that the Central Tibetan Valley was at an elevation of 1,700 meters or less between 50 and 38 million years ago. The Central Tibetan Valley shot up in elevation to become part of what is now the Tibetan Plateau at 4,000 m above sea level between 38 and 29 mya.

With the improvement of the Central Tibetan Valley and the cooling of the global climate through the Oligocene, temperatures and rainfall in the highlands considerably decreased, and monsoon influence grew stronger.

The central Tibet has changed from one that hosted a warm-humid, low-elevation subtropical ecosystem and served as an incubator for today's exceptional Asian biodiversity to a high, cold-dry alpine environment as a result of global warming.

According to Prof. Ding and his team, the Tibetan Plateau was formed via a new model. In this scenario, the subducting Lhasa mantle fell away or was thermally eroded, allowing for upwelling of the asthenosphere. This softened the crust above, making it easier for India's northward migration to generate shortening.

The central Tibetan Plateau was uplifted as a result of the compressed crust. The Lhasa mantle lithosphere cooled more slowly than surrounding, thinner lithosphere due to its high thermal diffusivity and this allowed it to be denser and descend from 15-20 km towards Tibet's surface at some time during or after India-Asia collision.

Their study, based on geophysical data and satellite gravity measurements, suggests that the Indian plate is still moving northwards at a rate of about 3.2-4.8mm per year as it enters the Tibetan Plateau and crushes the Asian continent against it.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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