Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Asia Kinematics

Kinematics and dynamics of continental deformation

We continually update evidence for rates of deformation in Asia in order to construct a field of deformation for that region. We are testing the idea that continental deformation is best described by continuous deformation of a viscous fluid, if with blocks of crust on top of that deforming fluid. If this idea is correct, then rates of deformation respond to a smoothly varying stress field across Asia and to a smoothly varying viscosity field. This work has involved the compilation of rates of slip on major faults and the computation of an internally compatible (in the sense of Saint Venant) strain-rate field [England and Molnar, 1997a, 2005]. We also work with GPS velocities, such those from the Chinese CMONOC array (Figure 1) [Zhang et al., 2004], data obtained in collaboration with Indian [e.g., Jade et al., 2004] and Pakistani colleagues, and in a project just starting with colleagues from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

A result that differs from what others report is that velocity fields that we deduce from Quaternary faulting and from GPS measurements differ little, both on the scale of Asia as a whole [England and Molnar, 2005], and in specific regions, like the Tien Shan [Abdrakhmatov et al., 1996; Thompson et al., 2002] and for Karakorum fault in western Tibet [Brown et al., 2002, 2005; Jade et al., 2004]. In doing this, we challenge some published rates; for instance, [Zhang et al. [2007]  find no convincing evidence for a slip rate on the Altyn Tagh fault in excess of ~10 mm/yr.

Among results from this work, we found that the strain-rate field that we obtain matches that predicted by the equation of equilibrium for a thin viscous sheet in a gravity field, and hence the idea that we can describe deformation in terms of a continuum pass this test [England and Molnar, 1997b]. The velocity field that we calculate from Quaternary faulting agrees with the GPS velocity fields, suggesting that rates obtained for several year periods do not differ from those appropriate for thousands to tens of thousands of years [England and Molnar, 2005]. The velocity field near a major strike-slip fault in Tibet implies that the crust of Tibet must include a low-viscosity zone in the middle to lower crust, but the viscosity is not unusually low [Hilley et al., 2005]

We have been working separately in India and Pakistan, on separate studies.
In India we seek constraints on India’s movement with respect to other plates and on internal deformation within India itself. Analysis of GPS data from Ladakh in northwestern India [Jade et al., 2004] suggests that the rate that India underthrusts the Himalaya is constant along the range (a result consistent with Tibet behaving like a humongous piece of ripe camembert cheese flowing onto the Indian plate). Preliminary results show that the Indian subcontinent deforms internally at a measurable rate described easily as a few mm/yr of north-south shortening across the subcontinent.

In Pakistan Nicole Feldl, while a student here in Colorado, and our Pakistani colleagues installed a network of GPS control points to study the thrusting of the Potwar Plateau and Salt Range onto the Indian Shield in northern Pakistan. Our main goal is to determine whether such thrusting occur aseismically by steady creep within the salt layers or in earthquakes. Becky Bendick and Roger Bilham have analyzed these data and have preliminary results.

Finally, we (Becky Bendick, Anatoli Ischuk, Umed Saidulloev, Gennady Schelochkov, Aleksandr V. Zubovich, and I) have installed the beginnings of a GPS network in Tajikistan and adjacent Kyrgyzstan. The network includes 4 continuously recording stations, and so far 25 campaign sites. Initial measurements will be made in the autumn of 2007. Our goals include examining possible continental subduction beneath the Pamir, quantifying movements within the Tajik Depression, and assessing the extent to which the Pamir behaves as a rigid block or a large piece of Camembert cheese, somewhat smaller than Tibet.


Figure 1. Global positioning system (GPS) velocities (mm/yr) for control points in and around the Tibetan Plateau with respect to stable Eurasia, plotted on shaded relief map using oblique Mercator projection about the present-day axis of rotation for India with respect to Eurasia. Ellipses denote 1s errors. Blue polygons show locations of GPS velocity profiles in other figures in the paper by Zhang et al. [2004]. Dashed yellow polygons show regions that we used to calculate dilatational strain rates (again, see Zhang et al. [2004]). Yellow numbers 1-7 represent regions of Himalaya, Altyn Tagh, Qilian Shan, Qaidam Basin, Longmen Shan, Tibet, and Sichuan and Yunnan, respectively.




Abdrakhmatov, K. Ye., S. A. Aldazhanov, B. H. Hager, M. W. Hamburger, T. A. Herring, K. B. Kalabaev, V. I. Makarov, P. Molnar, S. V. Panasyuk, M. T. Prilepin, R. E. Reilinger, I. S. Sadybakasov, B. J. Souter, Yu. A. Trapeznikov, V. Ye. Tsurkov, and A. V. Zubovich, Relatively recent construction of the Tien Shan inferred from GPS measurements of present-day crustal deformation rates,Nature, 384, 450-453, 1996.

Brown, E. T., R. Bendick, D. L. Bourlès, V. K. Gaur, P. Molnar, G. M. Raisbeck, and F. Yiou (2002), Slip rates of the Karakorum fault, Ladakh, India, determined using cosmic ray exposure dating of debris flows and moraines, J. Geophys. Res., 107, 10.1029/2000JB000100, 2002.

Brown, E. T., P. Molnar, and D. L. Bourlès (2005), Technical comment on "Slip-rate measurements on the Karakorum Fault may imply secular variations in fault motion," Science, 309, 1326b.

Champagnac, J.-D., D.-Y. Yuan, W.-P. Ge, P. Molnar, and W.-J. Zheng (2010), Slip rate at the northeastern front of the Qilian Shan, China, Terra Nova, 22, 180-187.

England, P., and P. Molnar (1997), The field of crustal velocity in Asia calculated from Quaternary rates of slip on faults, Geophys. J. Int., 130, 551-582.

England, P., and P. Molnar, Active deformation of Asia: from kinematics to dynamics, Science, 278, 647-650, 1997.

England, P., and P. Molnar (2005), Late Quaternary to decadal velocity fields in Asia, J. Geophys. Res., 110, B12401, doi:10.1029/2004JB003541.

Gillespie, A., and P. Molnar, Asynchronous maximum advances of mountain and continental glaciers, Rev. Geophys., 33, 311-364, 1995.

Hallet, B., and P. Molnar, Distorted drainage basins as markers of crustal strain east of the J. Geophys. Res., 106, 13,697-13,709, 2001.

Hilley, G. E., R. Bürgmann, P.-Z. Zhang, and P. Molnar (2005), Bayesian inference of plastosphere viscosities near the Kunlun Fault, northern Tibet,Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L01302, doi:10.1029/ 2004GL021658.

Jade, S., B. C. Bhatt, R. Bendick, V. K. Gaur, P. Molnar, M. B. Anand, and D. Kumar (2004), GPS measurements from the Ladakh Himalaya, India: Preliminary tests of plate-like or continuous deformation in Tibet, Geol. Soc. Amer. Bull., 116, 1385-1391.

Mohadjer, S., R. Bendick, A. Ischuk, S. Kuzikov, A. Kostuk, U. Saydullaev, S. Lodi, D. M. Kakar, A. Wasy, M. A. Khan, P. Molnar, R. Bilham, and A. V. Zubovich (2010), Partitioning of India-Eurasia convergence in the Pamir-Hindu Kush from GPS measurements, Geophys. Res. Lett., 37, L04305, doi:10.1029/2009GL041737.

Molnar, P; Stock, JM (2009), Slowing of India's convergence with Eurasia since 20 Ma and its implications for Tibetan mantle dynamics. Tectonics, 28 , Art. No. TC3001, doi: 10.1029/2008TC002271

Thompson, S. C., R. J. Weldon, C. M. Rubin, K. Abdrakhmatov, P. Molnar, and G. W. Berger (2002), Late Quaternary slip rates across the central Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan, central Asia, J. Geophys. Res., 107, 10.1029/2001JB000596.

Zhang, P.-Z., Z.-k. Shen, M. Wang, W.-j. Gan, R. Bürgmann, P. Molnar, Q. Wang, Z.-j. Niu, J.-z. Sun, J.-c. Wu, Sun Hanrong, and You Xinzhao (2004), Continuous deformation of the Tibetan Plateau from global positioning system data, Geology, 32, 809-812.

Research Group


Rebecca Bendick, University of Montana, Missoula
Roger Bilham, CIRES and Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado
Jean-Daniel Champagnac, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland
Anatoli Ischuk and Umed Saidulloev, Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology of the Academia of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan
Sergey Kuzikov, Anatoly Rybin, and Gennady G. Schelochkov, Research Station, Russian Academy of Sciences, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Li Chuanyou, Shen Zhengkang, Zheng Wenjun, Zhang Huiping, and Zhang Peizhen, Institute of Geology, China Earthquake Administration, Beijing China
Yuan Daoyang Lanzhou Institute of Seismology, China Earthquake Administration, Lanzhou China
Aleksandr V. Zubovich, Central Asian Institute for Applied Geo-Sciences (CAIAG), Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Funding Information

Supported by various grants from NSF's Theoretical and Experimental Geophysics Program