Testing fault growth models with low-temperature thermochronology in the northwest Basin and Range, USA

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Common fault growth models diverge in predicting how faults accumulate displacement and lengthen through time. A paucity of field-based data documenting the lateral component of fault growth hinders our ability to test these models and fully understand how natural fault systems evolve. Here we outline a framework for using apatite (U-Th)/He thermochronology (AHe) to quantify the along-strike growth of faults. To test our framework, we first use a transect in the normal fault-bounded Jackson Mountains in the Nevada Basin and Range Province, then apply the new framework to the adjacent Pine Forest Range. We combine new and existing cross sections with 18 new and 16 existing AHe cooling ages to determine the spatiotemporal variability in footwall exhumation and evaluate models for fault growth. Three age-elevation transects in the Pine Forest Range show that rapid exhumation began along the range-front fault between approximately 15 and 11 Ma at rates of 0.2–0.4 km/Myr, ultimately exhuming approximately 1.5–5 km. The ages of rapid exhumation identified at each transect lie within data uncertainty, indicating concomitant onset of faulting along strike. We show that even in the case of growth by fault-segment linkage, the fault would achieve its modern length within 3–4 Myr of onset. Comparison with the Jackson Mountains highlights the inadequacies of spatially limited sampling. A constant fault-length growth model is the best explanation for our thermochronology results. We advocate that low-temperature thermochronology can be further utilized to better understand and quantify fault growth with broader implications for seismic hazard assessments and the coevolution of faulting and topography.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Testing fault growth models with low-temperature thermochronology in the northwest Basin and Range, USA
Series title Tectonics
DOI 10.1002/2016TC004211
Volume 35
Issue 10
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description 26 p.
First page 2467
Last page 2492