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Sand samples from the mouths of the Red and Mekong Rivers were analyzed to determine the provenance and exhumation history of their source regions. U-Pb dating of detrital zircon grains shows that the main sources comprise crust formed within the Yangtze Craton and during the Triassic Indosinian Orogeny. Indosinian grains in the Mekong are younger (210-240 Ma) than those in the Red River (230-290 Ma), suggesting preferential erosion of the Qiangtang Block of Tibet into the Mekong. The Red River has a higher proportion of 700-800 Ma grains originally derived from the Yangtze Craton. 40Ar/ 39Ar dating of muscovite grains demonstrates that rocks cooled during the Indosinian Orogeny are dominant in both rivers, although the Mekong also shows a grain population cooling at 150-200 Ma that is not seen in the Red River and which is probably of original Qiangtang Block origin. Conversely, the Red River contains a significant mica population (350-500 Ma) eroded from the Yangtze Craton. High-grade metamorphic rocks exposed in the Cenozoic shear zones of southeast Tibet-Yunnan are minority sources to the rivers. However, apatite and zircon fission track ages show evidence for the dominant sources, especially in the Red River, only being exhumed through the shallowest 5-3 km of the crust since ̃25 Ma. The thermochronology data are consistent with erosion of recycled sediment from the inverted Simao and Chuxiong Basins, from gorges that incise the eastern flank of the plateau. Average Neogene exhumation rates are 104-191 m/Myr in the Red River basin, which is within error of the 178 ± 35 m/Myr estimated from Pleistocene sediment volumes. Sparse fission track data from the Mekong River support the Ar-Ar and U-Pb ages in favoring tectonically driven rock uplift and gorge incision as the dominant control on erosion, with precipitation being an important secondary influence. © 2006 by the American Geophysical Union.

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Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems