Active intraplate strike-slip faulting and transpressional uplift in the Mongolian Altai

D. Cunningham*, A. Dijkstra, J. Howard, A. Quarles, G. Badarch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


The Mongolian Altai is a Late Cenozoic intraplate strike-slip deformation belt which formed as a distant strain response to the Indo-Eurasian collision over 2000 km to the south. We report results from 5 weeks of detailed fieldwork carried out during summer 2000 in northwestern Mongolia investigating the crustal architecture of the Altai at latitude 48°N. The region can be divided into discrete Cenozoic structural domains each dominated by a major dextral strike-slip fault system or range-bounding thrust fault. Gentle bends along the major strike-slip faults are marked by transpressional uplifts including asymmetric thrust ridges, restraining bends, and triangular thrust-bounded massifs. These transpressional uplifts (Tsambagarav Massif, Altun Huhey Uul, Sair Uul, Hoh Serhiyn Nuruu, Omno Hayrhan Uula, Mengildyk Nuruu) comprise the highest mountains in the Mongolian Altai and are structural and metamorphic culminations exposing polydeformed greenschist-amphibolite grade basement recording at least two phases of Palaeozoic ductile deformation overprinted by Cenozoic brittle structures. Cenozoic thrust faults with the greatest amounts of displacement bound the W and SW sides of ranges throughout the region and consistenly verge WSW. Each major range is essentially a NE-tilted block and this is reflected by asymmetric internal drainage patterns. Many faults are considered active because they deform surficial deposits, form prominent scarps, and define range fronts with low sinuosity where active alluvial fan deposition takes place. Reactivation of the prevailing NW-striking, NE-dipping Palaeozoic basement anisotropy is a regionally important control on the orientation and kinematics of Cenozoic faults. At first order, the Altai is spatially partitioned into a low-angle thrust belt that overthrusts the Junggar Basin on the Chinese side and a high-angle SW-vergent dextral transpressional belt on the Mongolian side. The mechanically rigid Hangay craton and Junggar basement block which bound the Altai on either side have played a major role in focusing Late Cenozoic deformation along their boundaries and within the Altai. The geometric relationship between rigid block boundaries, Palaeozoic basement structural anisotropy, and the dominantly NE SHmax (derived from India's continued NE indentation) has dictated the kinematics of Late Cenozoic deformation in the Altai, Gobi Altai, and Sayan regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-87
Number of pages23
JournalGeological Society Special Publication
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2003
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Active intraplate strike-slip faulting and transpressional uplift in the Mongolian Altai'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this