Pattern of Mesozoic Thrust Surfaces and Tertiary Normal Faults in the Sevier Desert Subsurface, West-Central Utah

Wills, Stewart; Anders, Mark H.; Christie-Blick, Nicholas

Most tectonic models for the Sevier Desert basin, west-central Utah, envision it as the result of large-magnitude, normal-sense slip on a regional detachment fault. That interpretation, based principally on seismic reflection data, has helped shape views on the tectonics of the northeastern Great Basin area and, in a larger sense, the historical development of ideas about low-angle normal faulting. In recent years, however, several researchers have suggested, based on rock-mechanical, field, and subsurface evidence, that the hypothesized detachment fault does not exist and that the basin must have another explanation. Even among proponents of the detachment model, opinion has differed regarding the hypothesized extensional fault’s total displacement, estimates for which vary widely; the timing of detachment slip; and whether the hypothesized fault represents a “new” Tertiary extensional structure or an extensional reactivation of the Mesozoic Pavant thrust. A comprehensive reinterpretation of available subsurface data for the basin, including several previously unpublished seismic profiles, suggests: (1) that slip on the hypothesized detachment must have ceased by the Miocene in the southern Sevier Desert; (2) that estimates of large-magnitude offset on the hypothesized detachment are essentially unconstrained by structural data and need to be reevaluated; and (3) that models that view the hypothesized detachment as a Tertiary extensional reactivation of a Mesozoic thrust are likely incorrect. The newly available seismic data demonstrate that reflections from the Pavant thrust do indeed closely align with reflections from the Paleozoic/Tertiary contact in many parts of the northern Sevier Desert basin; however, to the south these same thrust fault reflections are directly traceable to a position well above the down dip projection of the presumed detachment within the Paleozoic Cricket Mountains block. Erosional truncation of the thrust faults and the absence in the south of other reflections aligned with the Paleozoic/Tertiary contact preclude extensional back-sliding on a Mesozoic thrust fault. These interpretations, if correct, are incompatible with the detachment hypothesis and necessitate alternative explanations for the basin’s origins.

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American Journal of Science

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