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Age, geochemical composition, and distribution of Oligocene ignimbrites in the northern Sierra Nevada, California: Implications for landscape morphology, elevation, and drainage divide geography of the Nevadaplano

International Geology Review

By:
, ,
DOI: 10.1080/00206810902880370

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Abstract

To gain a better understanding of the topographic and landscape evolution of the Cenozoic Sierra Nevada and Basin and Range, we combine geochemical and isotopic age correlations with palaeoaltimetry data from widely distributed ignimbrites in the northern Sierra Nevada, California. A sequence of Oligocene rhyolitic ignimbrites is preserved across the modern crest of the range and into the western foothills. Using trace and rare earth element geochemical analyses of volcanic glass, these deposits have been correlated to ignimbrites described and isotopically dated in the Walker Lane fault zone and in central Nevada (Henry et al., 2004, Geologic map of the Dogskin mountain quadrangle; Washoe County, Nevada; Faulds et al., 2005, Geology, v. 33, p. 505-508). Ignimbrite deposits were sampled within the northern Sierra Nevada and western Nevada, and four distinct geochemical compositions were identified. The majority of samples from within the northern Sierra Nevada have compositions similar to the tuffs of Axehandle Canyon or Rattlesnake Canyon, both likely sourced from the same caldera complex in either the Clan Alpine Mountains or the Stillwater Range, or to the tuff of Campbell Creek, sourced from the Desatoya Mountains caldera. New 40Ar/39Ar age determinations from these samples of 31.2, 30.9, and 28.7Ma, respectively, support these correlations. Based on an Oligocene palinspastic reconstruction of the region, our results show that ignimbrites travelled over 200km from their source calderas across what is now the crest of the Sierra Nevada, and that during that time, no drainage divide existed between the ignimbrite source calderas in central Nevada and sample locations 200km to the west. Palaeoaltimetry data from Sierra Nevada ignimbrites, based on the hydrogen isotopic composition of hydration water in glass, reflect the effect of a steep western slope on precipitation and indicate that the area had elevations similar to the present-day range. These combined results suggest that source calderas were likely located in a region of high elevation to the east of the Oligocene Sierra Nevada, which had a steep western slope that allowed for the large extent and broad distribution of the ignimbrites.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Age, geochemical composition, and distribution of Oligocene ignimbrites in the northern Sierra Nevada, California: Implications for landscape morphology, elevation, and drainage divide geography of the Nevadaplano
Series title:
International Geology Review
DOI:
10.1080/00206810902880370
Volume
51
Issue:
7-8
Year Published:
2009
Language:
English
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
International Geology Review
First page:
723
Last page:
742
Number of Pages:
20