Geomorphic evidence for enhanced Pliocene-Quaternary faulting in the northwestern Basin and Range

Lithosphere
By: , and 

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Abstract

Mountains in the U.S. Basin and Range Province are similar in form, yet they have different histories of deformation and uplift. Unfortunately, chronicling fault slip with techniques like thermochronology and geodetics can still leave sizable, yet potentially important gaps at Pliocene–Quaternary (∼105–106 yr) time scales. Here, we combine existing geochronology with new geomorphic observations and approaches to investigate the Miocene to Quaternary slip history of active normal faults that are exhuming three footwall ranges in northwestern Nevada: the Pine Forest Range, the Jackson Mountains, and the Santa Rosa Range. We use the National Elevation Dataset (10 m) digital elevation model (DEM) to measure bedrock river profiles and hillslope gradients from these ranges. We observe a prominent suite of channel convexities (knickpoints) that segment the channels into upper reaches with low steepness (mean ksn = ∼182; θref = 0.51) and lower, fault-proximal reaches with high steepness (mean ksn = ∼361), with a concomitant increase in hillslope angles of ∼6°–9°. Geologic maps and field-based proxies for rock strength allow us to rule out static causes for the knickpoints and interpret them as transient features triggered by a drop in base level that created ∼20% of the existing relief (∼220 m of ∼1050 m total). We then constrain the timing of base-level change using paleochannel profile reconstructions, catchment-scale volumetric erosion fluxes, and a stream-power–based knickpoint celerity (migration) model. Low-temperature thermochronology data show that faulting began at ca. 11–12 Ma, yet our results estimate knickpoint initiation began in the last 5 Ma and possibly as recently as 0.1 Ma with reasonable migration rates of 0.5–2 mm/yr. We interpret the collective results to be evidence for enhanced Pliocene–Quaternary fault slip that may be related to tectonic reorganization in the American West, although we cannot rule out climate as a contributing mechanism. We propose that similar studies, which remain remarkably rare across the region, be used to further test how robust this Plio–Quaternary landscape signal may be throughout the Great Basin.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Geomorphic evidence for enhanced Pliocene-Quaternary faulting in the northwestern Basin and Range
Series title Lithosphere
DOI 10.1130/L401.1
Volume 7
Issue 1
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Publisher location Boulder, CO
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 59
Last page 72
Country United States
Other Geospatial U.S. Basin and Range Province
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N