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In classic orogenic models, the mountain range is underlain by a deep crustal root. Here we present the crustal and upper mantle structures along two receiver function profiles across Qilian, an orogen experiencing recent growth at the northern margin of the Tibetan plateau. Opposite to an expected crustal root beneath the orogen, the Moho beneath Qilian is arch-like, shallower beneath the center and deepens by up to 10 km beneath its southern and northern boundaries. Additional velocity interfaces sub-parallel to the Moho are observed in the lower crust of the basins south of Qilian, which we interpret as the top of a mechanically strong lower crust thrusting several tens of kilometers underneath Qilian. In the north, the small lateral offset between the surface and mantle traces of the thrust system reveals a steep boundary, indicating that the North China cratonic crust acts as a strong resistance to the northward growth of the plateau, forcing the development of the left-lateral strike-slip Haiyuan fault south of the northern Qilian suture. The young Qilian orogen thus has been rising and growing progressively from the boundaries to the center, squeezed up by more rigid tectonic blocks in the north and south.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.