Existence of a continental-scale river system in eastern Tibet during the late Cretaceous–early Palaeogene

Xudong Zhao, Huiping Zhang, Ralf Hetzel, Eric Kirby, Alison R. Duvall, Kelin X. Whipple, Jianguo Xiong, Yifei Li, Jianzhang Pang, Ying Wang, Ping Wang, Kang Liu, Pengfei Ma, Bo Zhang, Xuemei Li, Jiawei Zhang, Peizhen Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The establishment of continental-scale drainage systems on Earth is largely controlled by topography related to plate boundary deformation and buoyant mantle. Drainage patterns of the great rivers in Asia are thought to be highly dynamic during the Cenozoic collision of India and Eurasia, but the drainage pattern and landscape evolution prior to the development of high topography in eastern Tibet remain largely unknown. Here we report the results of petro-stratigraphy, heavy-mineral analysis, and detrital zircon U-Pb dating from late Cretaceous–early Palaeogene sedimentary basin strata along the present-day eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau. Similarities in the provenance signatures among basins indicate that a continental-scale fluvial system once drained southward into the Neo-Tethyan Ocean. These results challenge existing models of drainage networks that flowed toward the East Asian marginal seas and require revisions to inference of palaeo-topography during the Late Cretaceous. The presence of a continent-scale river may have provided a stable long-term base level which, in turn, facilitated the development of an extensive low-relief landscape that is preserved atop interfluves above the deeply incised canyons of eastern Tibet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7231
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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