No high Tibetan Plateau until the Neogene

Su, T.; Farnsworth, A.; Spicer, R. A.; Huang, J.; Wu, F-X.; Liu, J.; Li, S-F.; Xing, Y-W.; Huang, Y-J.; Deng, W-Y-D.; Tang, H.; Xu, C-L.; Zhao, F.; Srivastava, G.; Valdes, P. J.; Deng, T. and Zhou, Z-K. (2019). No high Tibetan Plateau until the Neogene. Science Advances, 5(3), article no. eaav2189.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aav2189

Abstract

The Late Paleogene surface height and paleoenvironment for the core area of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) remain critically unresolved. Here, we report the discovery of the youngest well-preserved fossil palm leaves from Tibet. They were recovered from the Late Paleogene (Chattian), ca. 25.5 ± 0.5 million years, paleolake sediments within the Lunpola Basin (32.033°N, 89.767°E), central QTP at a present elevation of 4655 m. The anatomy of palms renders them intrinsically susceptible to freezing, imposing upper bounds on their latitudinal and altitudinal distribution. Combined with model-determined paleoterrestrial lapse rates, this shows that a high plateau cannot have existed in the core of Tibet in the Paleogene. Instead, a deep paleovalley, whose floor was <2.3 km above mean sea level bounded by (>4 km) high mountain systems, formed a topographically highly varied landscape. This finding challenges prevailing views on tectonic processes, monsoon dynamics, and the evolution of Asian biodiversity.

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