Articles | Volume 9, issue 3
Research article
08 May 2018
Research article |  | 08 May 2018

Testing the effects of topography, geometry, and kinematics on modeled thermochronometer cooling ages in the eastern Bhutan Himalaya

Michelle E. Gilmore, Nadine McQuarrie, Paul R. Eizenhöfer, and Todd A. Ehlers

Abstract. In this study, reconstructions of a balanced geologic cross section in the Himalayan fold–thrust belt of eastern Bhutan are used in flexural–kinematic and thermokinematic models to understand the sensitivity of predicted cooling ages to changes in fault kinematics, geometry, topography, and radiogenic heat production. The kinematics for each scenario are created by sequentially deforming the cross section with  ∼ 10 km deformation steps while applying flexural loading and erosional unloading at each step to develop a high-resolution evolution of deformation, erosion, and burial over time. By assigning ages to each increment of displacement, we create a suite of modeled scenarios that are input into a 2-D thermokinematic model to predict cooling ages. Comparison of model-predicted cooling ages to published thermochronometer data reveals that cooling ages are most sensitive to (1) the location and size of fault ramps, (2) the variable shortening rates between 68 and 6.4 mm yr−1, and (3) the timing and magnitude of out-of-sequence faulting. The predicted ages are less sensitive to (4) radiogenic heat production and (5) estimates of topographic evolution. We used the observed misfit of predicted to measured cooling ages to revise the cross section geometry and separate one large ramp previously proposed for the modern décollement into two smaller ramps. The revised geometry results in an improved fit to observed ages, particularly young AFT ages (2–6 Ma) located north of the Main Central Thrust. This study presents a successful approach for using thermochronometer data to test the viability of a proposed cross section geometry and kinematics and describes a viable approach to estimating the first-order topographic evolution of a compressional orogen.

Short summary
We examine the Himalayan Mountains of Bhutan by integrating balanced geologic cross sections with cooling ages from a suite of mineral systems. Interpretations of cooling ages are intrinsically linked to both the motion along faults as well as the location and magnitude of erosion. In this study, we use flexural and thermal kinematic models to understand the sensitivity of predicted cooling ages to changes in fault kinematics, geometry, and topography.