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Observations from the Basin and Range Province (Western United States) Pertinent to the Interpretation of Regional Detachment Faults

Christie-Blick, Nicholas; Anders, Mark H.; Wills, S.; Walker, C. D.; Renik, B.

This paper summarizes the results of completed and ongoing research in three areas of the Basin and Range Province of the western United States that casts doubt on the interpretation of specific regional detachment faults and the large extensional strains with which such faults are commonly associated. Given that these examples were influential in the development of ideas about low-angle normal faults, and particularly in making the case for frictional slip at dips of appreciably less than the 30° lock-up angle for μ ≈ 0.6 (where μ is the coefficient of friction), we advocate a critical re-examination of interpreted detachments elsewhere in the Basin and Range Province and in other extensional and passive margin settings.
The Sevier Desert ‘detachment’ of west-central Utah is reinterpreted as a Palaeogene unconformity that has been traced to depth west of the northern Sevier Desert basin along an unrelated seismic reflection (most probably a splay of the Cretaceous-age Pavant thrust). The absence of evidence in well cuttings and cores for either brittle deformation (above) or ductile deformation (below) is inconsistent with the existence of a fault with as much as 40 km of displacement. The Pavant thrust and the structurally higher Canyon Range thrust are erosionally truncated at the western margin of the southern Sevier Desert basin, and are not offset by the ‘detachment’ in the manner assumed by those inferring large extension across the basin.
The Mormon Peak detachment of SE Nevada is reinterpreted as a series of slide blocks on the basis of detachment characteristics and spatially variable kinematic indicators that are more closely aligned with the modern dip direction than the inferred regional extension direction. A particularly distinctive feature of the detachment is a basal layer of up to several tens of centimetres of polymictic conglomerate that was demonstrably involved in the deformation, with clastic dykes of the same material extending for several metres into overlying rocks in a manner remarkably similar to that observed at rapidly emplaced slide blocks. The Castle Cliff detachment in the nearby Beaver Dam Mountains of SW Utah is similarly regarded as a surficial feature, as originally interpreted, and consistent with its conspicuous absence in seismic reflection profiles from the adjacent sedimentary basin.
The middle Miocene Eagle Mountain Formation of eastern California, interpreted on the basis of facies evidence and distinctive clast provenance to have been moved tectonically more than 80 km ESE from a location close to the Jurassic-age Hunter Mountain batholith of the Cottonwood Mountains, is reinterpreted as having accumulated in a fluvial–lacustrine rather than alluvial fan–lacustrine setting, with no bearing on either the amount or direction of tectonic transport. The conglomeratic rocks upon which the provenance argument was based are pervasively channelized, with erosional relief of less than 1 m to as much as 15 m, fining-upwards successions at the same scale and abundant trough cross-stratification – all characteristic features of fluvial sedimentation and not of alluvial fans. The interpretation of the Eagle Mountain Formation as having been deposited within a few kilometres of the Hunter Mountain batholith, which depends strongly on assumptions about the dimensions of alluvial fans, is therefore not required. The result is important because the Eagle Mountain offset has been viewed as representing the strongest evidence for extreme extension in this part of California, and for the existence of detachment faults of regional dimensions.

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Also Published In

Imaging, Mapping and Modelling Continental Lithosphere Extension and Breakup
The Geological Society of London