Distribution, facies, ages, and proposed tectonic associations of regionally metamorphosed rocks in east- and south-central Alaska

Professional Paper 1497-C

Prepared in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys
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Most of the exposed bedrock in east- and south-central Alaska has been regionally metamorphosed and deformed during Mesozoic and early Cenozoic time. All the regionally metamorphosed rocks are assigned to metamorphic-facies units on the basis of their temperature and pressure conditions and metamorphic age. North of the McKinley and Denali faults, the crystalline rocks of the Yukon- Tanana upland and central Alaska Range compose a sequence of dynamothermally metamorphosed Paleozoic and older(?) metasedimentary rocks and metamorphosed products of a Devonian and Mississippian continental-margin magmatic arc. This sequence was extensively intruded by postmetamorphic mid-Cretaceous and younger granitoids. Many metamorphic-unit boundaries in the Yukon-Tanana upland are low-angle faults that juxtapose units of differing metamorphic grade, which indicates that metamorphism predated final emplacement of the fault-bounded units. In some places, the relation of metamorphic grade across a fault is best explained by contractional faulting; in other places, it is suggestive of extensional faulting.

Near the United States-Canadian border in the central Yukon- Tanana upland, metamorphism, plutonism, and thrusting occurred during a latest Triassic and Early Jurassic event that presumably resulted from the accretion of a terrane that had affinities to the Stikinia terrane onto the continental margin of North America. Elsewhere in the Yukon-Tanana upland, metamorphic rocks give predominantly late Early Cretaceous isotopic ages. These ages are interpreted to date either the timing of a subsequent Early Cretaceous episode of crustal thickening and metamorphism or, assuming that these other areas were also originally heated during the latest Triassic to Early Jurassic and remained buried, the timing of their uplift and cooling. This uplift and cooling may have resulted from extension.

South of the McKinley and Denali faults and north of the Border Ranges fault system, medium-grade metamorphism across much of the southern Peninsular and Wrangellia terranes was early to synkinematic with the intrusion of tonalitic and granodioritic plutons of primarily Early and Middle Jurassic age in the Peninsular terrane and Late Jurassic age in the Wrangellia terrane. Areas metamorphosed during the Jurassic episode that crop out near the Border Ranges fault system were subsequently retrograded and deformed in Cretaceous and early Tertiary time during accretion of younger units to the south. North of the Jurassic metamorphic and plutonic complex, low-grade metamorphism affected the rest of the Wrangellia terrane sometime during Jurassic and (or) Cretaceous time.

North of the Wrangellia terrane and immediately south of the McKinley and Denali faults, flyschoid rocks, which were deposited within a basin that separated the Wrangellia terrane from the western margin of North America, form a northeastward-tapering wedge. Within the western half of the wedge, flysch and structurally interleaved tectonic fragments were highly deformed and weakly metamorphosed; much of the metamorphism and deformation probably occurred sometime during mid- to Late Cretaceous time. In the eastern half of the wedge, flyschoid rocks form an intermediate-pressure Barrovian sequence (Maclaren metamorphic belt). Metamorphism of the Maclaren metamorphic belt was synkinematic with the Late Cretaceous to earliest Tertiary intrusion of foliated plutons of intermediate composition. Isotopic data suggest metamorphism extended into the early Tertiary and was accompanied by rapid uplift and cooling. Low- to medium-grade metamorphism throughout the wedge was probably associated with the accretion of the outboard Wrangellia terrane, as has been proposed for the Maclaren metamorphic belt.

South of the Border Ranges fault system lie variably metamorphosed sequences of oceanic rocks that comprise the successively accreted Chugach, Yakutat, Ghost Rocks, and Prince William terranes. The Chugach terrane consists of three successively accreted sequences of differing metamorphic histories. Metamorphism in all the sequences was associated with north-directed underthrusting beneath either the combined Peninsular-Wrangellia terrane or the older and inner parts of the Chugach terrane. These sequences, from innermost to outermost are: (1) intermediate- to highpressure, transitional greenschist- to blueschist-facies metabasalt and metasedimentary rocks that were metamorphosed during the Early and Middle Jurassic; (2) prehnite-pumpellyite-facies melange that was metamorphosed sometime during the Jurassic and Cretaceous; and (3) low-pressure prehnite-pumpellyite- or greenschist- facies flysch and metavolcanic rocks that were initially metamorphosed during latest Cretaceous to early Tertiary time and, in the eastern Chugach Mountains, were subsequently overprinted by low-pressure amphibolite-facies metamorphism that accompanied widespread intrusion during Eocene time. A similar low-pressure-facies series also developed within melange and flysch of the Yakutat terrane; these rocks are also intruded by Eocene plutons and are correlated with similar rocks of the Chugach terrane.

Seaward of the Chugach terrane are the strongly deformed but weakly metamorphosed (prehnite-pumpellyite-facies) deep-sea metasedimentary rocks and oceanic metavolcanic rocks of the Ghost Rocks and Prince William terranes. Metamorphism and deformation occurred during underthrusting of these terranes beneath the Chugach terrane in early Tertiary time and predated, perhaps by very little, intrusion by early Tertiary granitoids.

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Distribution, facies, ages, and proposed tectonic associations of regionally metamorphosed rocks in east- and south-central Alaska
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Report: iv, p. C1-C73; 2 Plates: 41.75 x 40.58 inches and 41.96 x 40 inches
Larger Work Title:
Regionally metamorphosed rocks of Alaska
United States