The Elevation history of the Tibetan Plateau and its implications for the Asian monsoon

Harris, Nigel (2006). The Elevation history of the Tibetan Plateau and its implications for the Asian monsoon. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 241(1) pp. 4–15.



The determination of the evolving palaeoaltitude of the Tibetan Plateau since the India–Eurasia collision underpins our understanding of how orography in central Asia affects the intensity of the monsoon and hence global climate change. Palaeoaltitudes, however, cannot be measured directly and need to be inferred from proxy observations that are usually model-dependent. Differing tectonic models for the behaviour of the lithosphere during continental collision have contrasting implications for the elevation of the plateau. However, two techniques recently employed for determining palaeo-elevation are independent of tectonic models, the first involving the variation with altitude of oxygen isotopes in precipitation and the second involving the change of leaf morphology with moist static energy of the atmosphere.
Elevation studies have focused on southern Tibet, largely due to the relative ease of access to the region. There is a remarkable unanimity amongst the diverse techniques applied that the altitude of the southern plateau has not significantly changed since at least the mid Miocene (ca. 15 Ma) arguing for an onset of the monsoon system during or before the early Miocene. A range of tectonic studies suggest that the northern and eastern parts of the plateau are younger geomorphological features, but there are few quantitative constraints of the timing of elevation from these regions of Tibet. Since both the elevation and the surface area of the plateau impact on atmospheric circulation, palaeoaltitude studies need to be extended to chart the increasing areas of elevated land surface through time.

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