Interpretation of the Last Chance thrust, Death Valley region, California, as an Early Permian décollement in a previously undeformed shale basin

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The Last Chance thrust, discontinuously exposed over an area of at least 2500 km2 near the south end of the Cordilleran foreland thrust belt in the Death Valley region of east-central California, is controversial because of its poorly constrained age and its uncertain original geometry and extent. We interpret this thrust to be Early Permian in age, to extend throughout a sedimentary basin in which deep-water Mississippian shale overlain by Pennsylvanian and earliest Permian limestone turbidites accumulated, to represent about 30 km of eastward displacement, and to be related to convergence on a northeast-trending segment of the Early Permian continental margin. Last Chance deformation occurred between the times of the Antler and Sonoma orogenies of Late Devonian–Early Mississippian and Late Permian ages, respectively, and followed Early to Middle Pennsylvanian truncation of the continental margin by transform faulting.

In the western part of the Mississippian shale basin in east-central California, the originally recognized exposures of the Last Chance thrust show Neoproterozoic and early Paleozoic strata above lower-plate Mississippian shale. Farther east, faults subparallel to bedding above, below, and within the Mississippian shale are interpreted to mark the thrust zone and to represent a regional décollement. At the eastern margin of the basin, upper-plate thrust slices of deep-water, late Paleozoic strata are interpreted to have piled up against the margin of the Mississippian carbonate shelf to form a large antiformal stack above the Lee Flat thrust, which we regard as the easternmost exposure of the Last Chance thrust. Thrust loading depressed the western part of the shelf, creating a new sedimentary basin in which about 3.5 km of younger Early Permian deep-water strata were deposited against the antiformal stack. Later, probably in the Late Permian, other thrusts, including the Inyo Crest thrust, which was subsequently overlapped by Early to Middle(?) Triassic marine strata, cut across the Last Chance thrust.

We interpret the Last Chance thrust as similar in many ways to Appalachian-type décollements in which the zone of thrusting is localized along a shale interval. The Last Chance thrust, however, has been dismembered during later geologic events so that its original geometry has been obscured. Our model may have unrecognized analogs in other structurally complex shale basins in which the initial deformation was along a major shale unit.

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Interpretation of the Last Chance thrust, Death Valley region, California, as an Early Permian décollement in a previously undeformed shale basin
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Earth-Science Reviews
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23 p.
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