Regional deformation of the Sierra Nevada, California, on conjugate microfault sets

Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
By:  and 



Strike slip microfaults are pervasive throughout the granitic rocks of the eastern Sierra Nevada. Offsets typically range from less than a millimeter to several tens of centimeters but exceed 100 m in some places. The spacing between microfaults varies from a few tens of centimeters to a few tens of meters throughout much of the high Sierra Nevada. Many of these microfaults are loci of slickensided, compact fault gouge, and they are commonly mineralized by quartz veinlets with minor amounts of epidote, chlorite, and rare sulphide minerals. The microfaults are oriented in two nearly vertical conjugate sets; a north to northeast striking set showing right lateral offset and an east to northeast striking set showing left lateral offset. Microfaults with left lateral offset are more common than microfaults with right lateral offset. Most lineaments visible on aerial photographs are microfaults. The age of this microfaulting is not precisely known. It developed after consolidation of the youngest granitic plutons in the Sierra (79 m.y. B.P.) and is known to cut a late Miocene volcanic dike in one area. Slickensides along the microfaults are subhorizontal but show a slight (about 3°) westward plunging average inclination, suggesting that much of the deformation occurred prior to the westward tilting of the Sierran block in late Tertiary time. The direction of maximum horizontal extensional strain (determined as the bisector of average microfault trends) changes systematically from north to south (WNW at 38.5°N; NW at 36.5°N). A pure shear constant volume solution based on a detailed study of microfaults at 37°20′N indicates a maximum extension of 2.3% in a N61°W direction. These extension directions are remarkably parallel to late Mesozoic to present‐day tectonic extension directions in the Basin and Range province. The pattern of microfaulting demonstrates that the supposedly monolithic Sierran terrane was also affected by the late Cenozoic and possibly earlier regional extension of western North America and provides an independent criterion for determining extensional strain directions.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Regional deformation of the Sierra Nevada, California, on conjugate microfault sets
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
DOI 10.1029/JB084iB11p06041
Volume 84
Issue B11
Year Published 1979
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 6041
Last page 6049
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Sierra Nevada
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