Analysis of Neogene deformation between Beaver, Utah, and Barstow, California: suggestions for altering the extensional paradigm

Special Paper of the Geological Society of America

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DOI: 10.1130/2013.2499(01)



For more than two decades, the paradigm of large-magnitude (~250 km), northwest-directed (~N70°W) Neogene extensional lengthening between the Colorado Plateau and Sierra Nevada at the approximate latitude of Las Vegas has remained largely unchallenged, as has the notion that the strain integrates with coeval strains in adjacent regions and with plate-boundary strain. The paradigm depends on poorly constrained interconnectedness of extreme-case lengthening estimated at scattered localities within the region. Here we evaluate the soundness of the inferred strain interconnectedness over an area reaching 600 km southwest from Beaver, Utah, to Barstow, California, and conclude that lengthening is overestimated in most areas and, even if the estimates are valid, lengthening is not interconnected in a way that allows for published versions of province-wide summations.

We summarize Neogene strike slip in 13 areas distributed from central Utah to Lake Mead. In general, left-sense shear and associated structures define a broad zone of translation approximately parallel to the eastern boundary of the Basin and Range against the Colorado Plateau, a zone we refer to as the Hingeline shear zone. Areas of steep-axis rotation (ranging to 2500 km2) record N-S shortening rather than unevenly distributed lengthening. In most cases, the rotational shortening and extension-parallel folds and thrusts are coupled to, or absorb, strike slip, thus providing valuable insight into how the discontinuous strike-slip faults are simply parts of a broad zone of continuous strain. The discontinuous nature of strike slip and the complex mixture of extensional, contractional, and steep-axis rotational structures in the Hingeline shear zone are similar to those in the Walker Lane belt in the west part of the Basin and Range, and, together, the two record southward displacement of the central and northern Basin and Range relative to the adjacent Colorado Plateau. Understanding this province-scale coupling is critical to understanding major NS shortening and westerly tectonic escape in the Lake Mead area.

One north-elongate uplift in the Hingeline shear zone is a positive flower structure along a strike-slip fault, and we postulate that most other large uplifts are diapiric, resulting from extension-normal inflow of ductile substrate, rather than second-order isostatic responses to tectonic unloading. We also postulate that large steep-axis rotations, and some small ones as well, result from basal tractions imparted by gradients in southerly directed subjacent ductile flow rather than by shear coupling imparted by laterally variable elongation strains. The shortening strain recorded in the rotations and related structures probably matches or exceeds the magnitude of lengthening, even for the Lake Mead area where we do not question local large (~65 km) west-directed lengthening. We assess the results of extensive recent earth-science research in the Lake Mead area and conclude that previously published models of N-S convergence, westerly tectonic rafting, and N-S occlusion are valid and record unique tectonic escape accommodation for south-directed displacement of the Great Basin sector of the Basin and Range. Genetic ties between the south-directed displacement and plate-interaction forces are elusive, and we suggest the displacement results from body forces inherent in the Basin and Range.

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Analysis of Neogene deformation between Beaver, Utah, and Barstow, California: suggestions for altering the extensional paradigm
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Special Paper of the Geological Society of America
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Geological Society of America
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Boulder, CO
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Special Paper of the Geological Society of America
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United States