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Analysis of several types of seismic and potential field geophysical data consistently indicate that the majority of the crust underlying the Canadian Cordillera and much of western Canada was originally Proterozoic sedimentary rocks shed off the Canadian Shield into rift or basin structures between 1.84 and 0.54 Ga. These variably metamorphosed strata were primarily quartz- and limestone-rich sediments and thus have distinctive geophysical signatures because of their lower density, lower magnetization, and lower Poisson’s ratio compared with more mafic rocks. The sediments formed a prograding wedge that has a distinctive, internally reflective, seismic stratigraphy. In the east, these Proterozoic sedimentary rocks thicken at a ‘hinge line’ defined by the margin of the pre-1.84 Ga crystalline basement of the Canadian Shield; previous work mapped this hinge line locally using deep reflection profiles and regionally using distinctive gravity gradients. Here we assemble previously published results of several geophysical methods to define the overall shape of the wedge along the margin and westward to where it pinches out at the modern Moho beneath the crustal collage of exotic and suspect terranes accreted onto North America during the Mesozoic. The volume of crust occupied by this wedge limits the thickness of most accreted terranes to several kilometres and suggests that deeper portions of the accreted blocks detached or underthrust the wedge during accretion and are no longer contiguous to crust exposed at the surface. This type Cenozoic accretionary orogen thus spent most of its prior geological history as a passive or extensional margin punctuated by only a few, brief convergent or accretionary events.

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