Strong Variability in the Thermal Structure of Tibetan Lithosphere

Xia B., Artemieva I., Thybo H. J., Klemperer S.

Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, vol.128, no.3, 2023 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 128 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1029/2022jb026213
  • Journal Name: Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, Aerospace Database, Aquatic Science & Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA), Communication Abstracts, Environment Index, Geobase, INSPEC, Metadex, Civil Engineering Abstracts
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


We present a model of thermal lithospheric thickness (the depth where the geotherm reaches a temperature of 1300°C) and surface heat flow in Tibet and adjacent regions based on a new thermal-isostasy method. The method accounts for crustal density heterogeneity, is free from any assumption of a steady-state lithosphere thermal regime, and assumes that deviations from crustal Airy-type isostasy are caused by lithosphere thermal heterogeneity. We observe a highly variable lithospheric thermal structure which we interpret as representing longitudinal variations in the northern extent of the subducting Indian plate, southward subduction of the Asian plate beneath central Tibet, and possible preservation of fragmented Tethyan paleo-slabs. Cratonic-type cold and thick lithosphere (200–240 km) with a predicted surface heat flow of 40–50 mW/m2 typifies the Tarim Craton, the northwest Yangtze Craton, and most of the Lhasa Block that is likely refrigerated by underthrusting Indian lithosphere. We identify a “North Tibet anomaly” with thin (<80 km) lithosphere and high surface heat flow (>80–100 mW/m2). We interpret this anomaly as the result of removal of lithospheric mantle and asthenospheric upwelling at the junction of the Indian and Asian slabs with opposite subduction polarities. Other parts of Tibet typically have intermediate lithosphere thickness of 120–160 km and a surface heat flow of 45–60 mW/m2, with patchy anomalies in eastern Tibet. While different uplift mechanisms for Tibet predict different lithospheric thermal regimes, our results in terms of a highly variable thermal structure beneath Tibet suggest that topographic uplift is caused by an interplay of several mechanisms.