The role of the westerlies and orography in Asian hydroclimate since the late Oligocene

Journal: Geology

Published: 2020-07-01

DOI: 10.1130/g47400.1

Affiliations: 9

Authors: 18

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Research Highlight

Rising mountains left Central Asia high and dry

© Anton Petrus/Getty

© Anton Petrus/Getty

The aridification of Central Asia during the Cenozoic era (about 65 million years ago to the present) began when mountains grew tall enough to block rain-bearing westerly winds.

The Tian Shan and Pamir mountain ranges rise between the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush and are thought to have driven a drying out of Central Asia’s climate, but when and why this aridification began is still debated.

Now, a team that included researchers from Lanzhou University in China has studied sediment records from the windward (west) and leeward (east) of the Tian Shan-Pamir plateau and found that the Tajik basin to the west developed a wetter climate around 25 million years ago.

Through climate simulations, the researchers discovered that the east–west climate divide emerged around the time the mountains reached 3,000 metres — also roughly 25 million years ago — and began to trap moisture blown from the west, leaving drier conditions to the east.

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  1. Geology 7, 728–732 (2020). doi: 10.1130/G47400.1
Institutions Share
Department of Geosciences, Arizona, United States of America (USA) 0.22
MOE Key Laboratory of Western China's Environmental Systems, LZU, China 0.17
Frontier Center for Eco-environment and Climate Change in Pan-third Pole Regions, LZU, China 0.17
Alfred Wegener Institute - Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Germany 0.13
Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, United States of America (USA) 0.11
Institute of Geology, Earthquake Engineering and Seismology, Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan, Tajikistan 0.11
Department of Earth Sciences (D-ERDW), ETH Zurich, Switzerland 0.06
CAS Key Laboratory of Alpine Ecology and Biodiversity (LAEB), ITP CAS, China 0.01
CAS Center for Excellence and Innovation in Tibetan Plateau Earth System Sciences (CEITPES), ITP CAS, China 0.01