Tectonic influence on axial-transverse sediment routing in the Denver Basin

By: , and 



Detrital zircon U-Pb and (U-Th)/He ages from latest Cretaceous–Eocene strata of the Denver Basin provide novel insights into evolving sediment sourcing, recycling, and dispersal patterns during deposition in an intracontinental foreland basin. In total, 2464 U-Pb and 78 (U-Th)/He analyses of detrital zircons from 21 sandstone samples are presented from outcrop and drill core in the proximal and distal portions of the Denver Basin. Upper Cretaceous samples that predate uplift of the southern Front Range during the Laramide orogeny (Pierre Shale, Fox Hills Sandstone, and Laramie Formation) contain prominent Late Cretaceous (84–77 Ma), Jurassic (169–163 Ma), and Proterozoic (1.69–1.68 Ga) U-Pb ages, along with less abundant Paleozoic through Archean zircon grain ages. These grain ages are consistent with sources in the western U.S. Cordillera, including the Mesozoic Cordilleran magmatic arc and Yavapai-Mazatzal basement, with lesser contributions of Grenville and Appalachian zircon recycled from older sedimentary sequences. Mesozoic zircon (U-Th)/He ages confirm Cordilleran sources and/or recycling from the Sevier orogenic hinterland. Five of the 11 samples from syn-Laramide basin fill (latest Cretaceous–Paleocene D1 Sequence) and all five samples from the overlying Eocene D2 Sequence are dominated by 1.1–1.05 Ga zircon ages that are interpreted to reflect local derivation from the ca. 1.1 Ga Pikes Peak batholith. Corresponding late Mesoproterozoic to early Neoproterozoic zircon (U-Th)/He ages are consistent with local sourcing from the southern Front Range that underwent limited Mesozoic–Cenozoic unroofing. The other six samples from the D1 Sequence yielded detrital zircon U-Pb ages similar to pre-Laramide units, with major U-Pb age peaks at ca. 1.7 and 1.4 Ga but lacking the 1.1 Ga age peak found in the other syn-Laramide samples. One of these samples yielded abundant Mesozoic and Paleozoic (U-Th)/He ages, including prominent Early and Late Cretaceous peaks.

We propose that fill of the Denver Basin represents the interplay between locally derived sediment delivered by transverse drainages that emanated from the southern Front Range and a previously unrecognized, possibly extraregional, axial-fluvial system. Transverse alluvial-fluvial fans, preserved in proximal basin fill, record progressive unroofing of southern Front Range basement during D1 and D2 Sequence deposition. Deposits of the upper and lower D1 Sequence across the basin were derived from these fans that emanated from the southern Front Range. However, the finer-grained, middle portion of the D1 Sequence that spans the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary was deposited by both transverse (proximal basin fill) and axial (distal basin fill) fluvial systems that exhibit contrasting provenance signatures. Although both tectonic and climatic controls likely influenced the stratigraphic development of the Denver Basin, the migration of locally derived fans toward and then away from the thrust front suggests that uplift of the southern Front Range may have peaked at approximately the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary.

Study Area

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Tectonic influence on axial-transverse sediment routing in the Denver Basin
DOI 10.1130/2021.2555(11)
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description 20 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Tectonic evolution of the Sevier-Laramide hinterland, thrust belt, and foreland, and postorogenic slab rollback (180–20 Ma)
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Denver Basin
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details