We present a new crustal section across northwest China based on a seismic refraction profile and geologic mapping. The 1100-km-long section crosses the southern margin of the Chinese Altai Mountains, Junggar Accretional Belt and eastern Junggar basin, easternmost Tianshan Mountains, and easternmost Tarim basin. The crustal velocity structure and Poisson's ratio (??), which provide a constraint on crustal composition, were determined from P and S wave data. Despite the complex geology, the crustal thickness along the entire profile is nearly uniform at 50 km. The thickest crust (56 km) occurs at the northern end of the profile beneath the Altai Mountains and the thinnest (46 km) crust is beneath the Junggar basin. Beneath surficial sediments, the crust is found to have three layers with P wave velocities (Vp) of 6.0-6.3, 6.3-6.6, and 6.9-7.0 km/s, respectively. The southern half of the profile, including the eastern Tianshan Mountains and eastern margin of the Tarim basin, shows low P wave velocities and ?? = 0.25 to a depth of 30 km, which suggests a quartz-rich, granitic upper crustal composition. The northern half of the profile below the Altai Mountains and Junggar Accretional Belt has a higher Poisson's ratio of ?? = 0.26-0.27 to a depth of 30 km, indicative of an intermediate crustal composition. The entire 1100-km-long profile is underlain by a 15-30 km thick high velocity (6.9-7.0 km/s; ?? = 0.26-0.28) lower-crustal layer that we interpret to have a bulk composition of mafic granulite. At the southern end of the profile, a 5-km-thick midcrustal low-velocity layer (Vp = 5.9 km/s, ?? = 0.25) underlies the Tianshan and the region to the south, and may be indicative of a near-horizontal detachment interface. Pn velocities are ???7.7-7.8 km/s between the Tianshan and the Junggar basin, and ???7.9-8.0 km/s below the Altai Mountains and eastern margin of the Tarim basin. We interpret the consistent three-layer stratification of the crust to indicate that the crust has undergone partial melting and differentiation after Paleozoic terrane accretion. The thickness (50 km) of the crust appears to be related to compression resulting from the Indo-Asian collision.
Additional publication details
The crustal structure from the Altai Mountains to the Altyn Tagh fault, northwest China