Total exhumation across the Beichuan fault in the Longmen Shan (eastern Tibetan plateau, China): Constraints from petrology and thermobarometry

Airaghi, Laura; de Sigoyer, Julia; Lanari, Pierre; Guillot, Stéphane; Vidal, Olivier; Monié, Patrick; Sautter, Benjamin; Tan, Xibin (2017). Total exhumation across the Beichuan fault in the Longmen Shan (eastern Tibetan plateau, China): Constraints from petrology and thermobarometry. Journal of Asian earth sciences, 140, pp. 108-121. Elsevier 10.1016/j.jseaes.2017.04.003

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The deep structure and deformation mechanisms of the Longmen Shan thrust belt (Sichuan, China), at the eastern border of the Tibetan plateau, were largely debated after the devastating Mw 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake (2008). Recent geophysical studies and field investigations have been focused on the active motion of the major Beichuan fault, which ruptured during the earthquake. However, the total exhumation across the fault still remains unclear. In the hanging wall of the Beichuan fault, the South China block is exhumed in the Pengguan massif. Close to the Beichuan fault, the rocks of the Pengguan massif underwent greenschist facies metamorphism associated with brittle-ductile deformation. No metamorphism is observed in the footwall of the fault. In this study, we characterize and date the metamorphic history recorded in the hanging wall of the Beichuan fault in order to constrain the depth and timing of exhumation of the rocks of the Pengguan massif along the fault. A high-resolution petrological approach involving chemical analyses and X-ray maps was used to analyze the micrometric metamorphic minerals. The P-T conditions of the greenschist facies metamorphic event were estimated by an inverse multi-equilibrium thermodynamic approach. The results, 280 ± 30 °C and 7 ± 1 kbar, suggest that the rocks of the Pengguan massif were exhumed from ca. 20 km depth. Our results underline the importance of the thrusting component in the long-term behavior of the Beichuan fault and provide a minimal depth at which the fault is rooted. In situ laser ablation 40Ar/39Ar dating of metamorphic white mica revealed that the greenschist overprint occurred at 135–140 Ma.

The Pengguan massif was therefore partially thrusted along the Beichuan fault during the Lower Cretaceous, long before the Eocene-Miocene exhumation phase which is well-constrained by low-temperature thermochronology. Our results provide the first independent depth information for the exhumation history of the Pengguan massif and reveal a previously undocumented Lower Cretaceous tectonic event that marks the onset of the thick-skinned deformation in the external domain of the Longmen Shan (East of the Wenchuan Fault).

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Lanari, Pierre


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology








Pierre Lanari

Date Deposited:

19 Sep 2019 10:50

Last Modified:

04 Nov 2019 14:52

Publisher DOI:





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