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Upper Cretaceous-Paleogene strata of northern and central Mexico were deposited in a retroarc foreland basin that was at first narrow but expanded eastward during the Paleogene. New petrographic data and U-Pb detrital zircon ages yield insights into stratirgaphic age of the basin fill, sediment sources, and sediment-dispersal pathways. The basin differs from the contemporary Cordilleran foreland basin of the US to the north in having a dominant volcanic-lithic component in all of its sandstones. Like its northern counterpart, the Mexican basin migrated eastward with time, ahead of an advancing orogenic wedge. Provenance data indicate that the dominant sediment source for all strata was the coeval continental margin arc of western Mexico. Nevertheless, temporal differences in zircon content indicate distant sediment sources in basement and derivative sedimentary rocks of southwestern Laurentia during early (Cenomanian–Turonian) and late (Campanian–Maastrichtian and Paleogene) stages in basin evolution; during an intermediate stage (Coniacian–earliest Campanian), the Laurentian sources were absent and most pre-arc grains were derived from accreted rocks of western Mexico. The initial basin possessed a narrow foredeep filled by sediment-gravity flow deposits filled with dominantly axial sediment transport. Carbonate platforms of eastern Mexico supplied calclithites to the foredeep during early stages of basin formation, indicating the importance of pre-foreland paleotopography on sediment fill.

Sediment-dispersal systems evolved in concert with the stages of basin development. During the Cenomanian–Turonian stage, turbidites deposited in the Mesa Central had headwaters as far away as northern Sonora, but headwaters for Coniacian–Campanian deep-water deposits probably lay closer to central Mexico. Although late-stage uppermost Cretaceous–lower Eocene shallow marine and continental strata in the foreland of northeast Mexico were linked to a fluvial drainage basin whose extent was probably the greatest in Mexico, it is unclear if these clastic sediments ever reached the Gulf of Mexico. Partitioning of the distal foreland by inversion of Jurassic extensional basins in Santonian–Campanian time was probably effective at isolating dispersal systems of northern Mexico from time-equivalent sediment-routing systems of northeast-ernmost Mexico and southwestern Texas.

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