Channel flow, tectonic overpressure, and exhumation of high-pressure rocks in the Greater Himalayas
Abstract. The Himalayas are the archetype of continental collision, where a number of long-standing fundamental problems persist in the Greater Himalayan Sequence (GHS): (1) contemporaneous reverse and normal faulting, (2) inversion of metamorphic grade, (3) origin of high- (HP) and ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) rocks, (4) mode of ductile extrusion and exhumation of HP and UHP rocks close to the GHS hanging wall, (5) flow kinematics in the subduction channel, and (6) tectonic overpressure, here defined as TOP = P∕PL where P is total (dynamic) pressure and PL is lithostatic pressure. In this study we couple Himalayan geodynamics to numerical simulations to show how one single model, upward-tapering channel (UTC) flow, can be used to find a unified explanation for the evidence. The UTC simulates a flat-ramp geometry of the main underthrust faults, as proposed for many sections across the Himalayan continental subduction. Based on the current knowledge of the Himalayan subduction channel geometry and geological/geophysical data, the simulations predict that a UTC can be responsible for high TOP ( > 2). TOP increases exponentially with a decrease in UTC mouth width, and with an increase in underthrusting velocity and channel viscosity. The highest overpressure occurs at depths < −60 km, which, combined with the flow configuration in the UTC, forces HP and UHP rocks to exhume along the channel's hanging wall, as in the Himalayas. By matching the computed velocities and pressures with geological data, we constrain the GHS viscosity to be ≤ 1021 Pa s, and the effective convergence (transpression) to a value ≤ 10 %. Variations in channel dip over time may promote or inhibit exhumation (> or < 15°, respectively). Viscous deformable walls do not affect overpressure significantly enough for a viscosity contrast (viscosity walls to viscosity channel) of the order of 1000 or 100. TOP in a UTC, however, is only possible if the condition at the bottom boundary is no-outlet pressure; otherwise it behaves as a leaking boundary that cannot retain dynamic pressure. However, the cold, thick, and strong lithospheres forming the Indian and Eurasian plates are a good argument against a leaking bottom boundary in a flat-ramp geometry, and therefore it is possible for overpressure to reach high values in the GHS.