One of the enduring debates in the study of the Himalayan orogen (and continental collision zones in general) is whether the salient observed features are explained (a) by localized deformation along discrete, narrow fault zones/ductile shear zones separating individual blocks or slices (e.g. critical taper or wedge tectonic models), or (b) by distributed deformation dominated by wide zones of visco-plastic flow in the solid or a partially molten state (e.g. channel flow models). A balanced cross-section from Sikkim in the eastern Himalaya that is based on structural data and is drawn to satisfy petrological and geophysical constraints as well, is used in combination with information from petrology, geochronology, geospeedometry and microstructural data to address this question. We discuss that any tectonic model needs to be thermally, rheologically, geometrically and temporally viable in order to qualify as a suitable description of a system; models such as channel flow and critical taper are considered in this context. It is shown that channel flow models may operate with or without an erosional porthole (channel with tunnel and funnel mode vs. channels with only the tunnel mode) and that the predicted features differ significantly between the two. Subsequently, we consider a large body of data from Sikkim to show that a channel flow type model (in the tunneling without funneling mode), such as the ones of Faccenda et al. (2008), describes features formed at high temperatures very well, while features formed at lower temperatures are more consistent with the operation of localized, fault-bounded, slice tectonics, (LFBST, be it in the form of critical taper, wedge tectonics, or something else). Thus, the two modes are not competing, but collaborating, processes and both affect a given rock unit at different points of time during burial, metamorphism and exhumation. A transitional stage separates the two end-member styles of tectonic evolution. The proposed models bear similarities to those suggested by Mallet (1875) and Auden (1935) and mechanisms proposed by Beaumont and Jamieson (2010). We conclude by discussing some of the implications of such a model for motion on the major Himalayan faults, and by considering which features of any given rock are likely to record signatures of a particular style of tectonic evolution. Some directions for future research are suggested in the end.
- Balanced cross-section
- Channel flow
- Critical taper
- Localized fault bounded slice tectonics (LFBST)