Geometry and kinematics of the eastern Lake Mead fault system in the Virgin Mountains, Nevada and Arizona

GSA Special Papers
By: , and 



The Lake Mead fault system is a northeast-striking, 130-km-long zone of left-slip in the southeast Great Basin, active from before 16 Ma to Quaternary time. The northeast end of the Lake Mead fault system in the Virgin Mountains of southeast Nevada and northwest Arizona forms a partitioned strain field comprising kinematically linked northeast-striking left-lateral faults, north-striking normal faults, and northwest-striking right-lateral faults. Major faults bound large structural blocks whose internal strain reflects their position within a left step-over of the left-lateral faults. Two north-striking large-displacement normal faults, the Lakeside Mine segment of the South Virgin–White Hills detachment fault and the Piedmont fault, intersect the left step-over from the southwest and northeast, respectively. The left step-over in the Lake Mead fault system therefore corresponds to a right-step in the regional normal fault system.

Within the left step-over, displacement transfer between the left-lateral faults and linked normal faults occurs near their junctions, where the left-lateral faults become oblique and normal fault displacement decreases away from the junction. Southward from the center of the step-over in the Virgin Mountains, down-to-the-west normal faults splay northward from left-lateral faults, whereas north and east of the center, down-to-the-east normal faults splay southward from left-lateral faults. Minimum slip is thus in the central part of the left step-over, between east-directed slip to the north and west-directed slip to the south. Attenuation faults parallel or subparallel to bedding cut Lower Paleozoic rocks and are inferred to be early structures that accommodated footwall uplift during the initial stages of extension.

Fault-slip data indicate oblique extensional strain within the left step-over in the South Virgin Mountains, manifested as east-west extension; shortening is partitioned between vertical for extension-dominated structural blocks and south-directed for strike-slip faults. Strike-slip faults are oblique to the extension direction due to structural inheritance from NE-striking fabrics in Proterozoic crystalline basement rocks.

We hypothesize that (1) during early phases of deformation oblique extension was partitioned to form east-west–extended domains bounded by left-lateral faults of the Lake Mead fault system, from ca. 16 to 14 Ma. (2) Beginning ca. 13 Ma, increased south-directed shortening impinged on the Virgin Mountains and forced uplift, faulting, and overturning along the north and west side of the Virgin Mountains. (3) By ca. 10 Ma, initiation of the younger Hen Spring to Hamblin Bay fault segment of the Lake Mead fault system accommodated westward tectonic escape, and the focus of south-directed shortening transferred to the western Lake Mead region. The shift from early partitioned oblique extension to south-directed shortening may have resulted from initiation of right-lateral shear of the eastern Walker Lane to the west coupled with left-lateral shear along the eastern margin of the Great Basin.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Geometry and kinematics of the eastern Lake Mead fault system in the Virgin Mountains, Nevada and Arizona
Series title GSA Special Papers
DOI 10.1130/2010.2463(11)
Volume 463
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Geology and Geophysics Science Center
Description 32 p.
First page 243
Last page 274
Country United States
State Arizona, Nevada
Other Geospatial Virgin Mountains
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional metadata about this publication, not found in other parts of the page is in this table