Youngest palm fossil brings new insight to topography of Tibet

The concept of a “proto-Tibetan Plateau” suggests that the central part of Tibet was flat 35-40 million years ago. However, it has been challenged by the latest discovery of palm fossils in central Tibet.

In a study published in the latest issue of Science Advances, researchers from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) reported the discovery of the youngest well-preserved fossil palm leaves from Tibet.

CREDIT: SU Tao

They showed that a large valley system with a floor less than 2.3 km above mean sea level (a.m.s.l.) existed in central Tibet as late as 25 million years ago.

The researchers discovered the 25 million-year- old well-preserved fossil palm leaves in paleo-lake sediments within the Lunpola Basin in the central Tibetan Plateau. The fossil palms are characterized by their prominent spine-like structures at the base of the leaf blades, which are different from any other previously reported palm fossils.

The researchers from China and the UK determined paleotemperatures at sea-level using coeval proxy data and combined with climate model-generated local terrestrial thermal paleolapse rates for a range of topographic scenarios.

Research article: No high Tibetan Plateau until the Neogene

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