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Jurassic tectonics of northeastern Nevada and northwestern Utah from the perspective of barometric studies

David M. Miller
David M. Miller
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Thomas D. Hoisch
Thomas D. Hoisch
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January 01, 1995

Jurassic tectonism in the northeastern Great Basin produced varied structures, many closely associated with widespread magmatism at ca. 155–165 Ma and with local metamorphism. Many of the plutons are of suitable mineralogy for Al-in-hornblende barometry, providing the potential for depth data. We have studied conditions of metamorphism in the Pilot Range and barometry for six Jurassic plutons across the northeastern Great Basin. All barometry results are in harmony with pressures estimated from stratigraphic data, requiring little or no tectonic thickening.

On the basis of structural styles and barometric data, we divide the northeastern Great Basin into three Jurassic tectonic provinces. An eastern extensional province, largely in western Utah, is characterized by Paleozoic strata that were thrust faulted and then intruded by shallow plutons shortly after or during normal and strike-slip faulting. Extension was probably a short-lived event associated with magmatism, but its west trend indicates a total reorientation of stress at this time, perhaps within transtensional strike-slip zones.

A central province of modest, and possibly locally extreme, Jurassic shortening in eastern Nevada is characterized by metamorphosed Paleozoic rocks and by thrusts and kilometer-scale southeast-vergent folds. Upper amphibolite facies, but low pressure (3–4 kbar) metamorphism is present near Jurassic plutons in the Pilot Range and Ruby Mountains, probably indicating metamorphism induced by heat from magmas. In contrast, metamorphism in other ranges, which is known only to be pre–Late Cretaceous, indicates thickening of 10–20 km. This thickening may have entirely postdated the Jurassic.

A western province in north-central Nevada is characterized by preserved Jurassic volcanic rocks and shallow plutons, indicating that little erosion, and probably surface uplift, occurred during the late Mesozoic. Folds and thrust faults indicate minor Jurassic shortening but many structures are undated.

The low-pressure upper-crustal conditions for demonstrably Jurassic events suggest that higher-pressure metamorphism recorded in the central province is younger (Cretaceous) in age. We suggest that Jurassic structures were caused by distributed minor crustal shortening, manifested mainly as small-scale thrust faults. Local thermal highs created by plutonism produced metamorphic zones in relatively shallow crust. Shortening in the east was manifested by zones of strike-slip, within which plutons were emplaced in tensile niches. Lack of a deep foreland basin and lack of evidence for massive erosion argue against high-relief mountain belts caused by significant crustal shortening.

Paleozoic rocks metamorphosed at pressures far in excess of stratigraphic burial are restricted to narrow lenses exhumed during Late Cretaceous and Tertiary extension and are bordered by rocks that always have been part of the shallow crust. The abundant shallow-crustal rocks preserved across the region indicate that a conventional hypothesis of large-scale, regional crustal thickening causing many kilometers of surface uplift and consequent erosion is unlikely to have taken place in the Mesozoic.

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GSA Special Papers

Jurassic Magmatism and Tectonics of the North American Cordillera

David M. Miller
David M. Miller
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Cathy Busby
Cathy Busby
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Geological Society of America
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Publication date:
January 01, 1995



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