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A kinematic model for the southern Alaska orocline based on regional fault patterns

By
Jonathan M.G Glen
Jonathan M.G Glen
U.S. Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA
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Published:
January 01, 2004

Among the most prominent physiographic features of southern Alaska are a series of nested arcuate lineations, including the Denali fault, that parallel the concave-southward southern coastline of the state. These features are generally interpreted as major dextral shear zones that formed in the Late Cretaceous to early Tertiary in response to stresses imposed on the western edge of North America by transcurrent motion and oblique subduction along the North American margin.

South-central Alaska consists of a collage of Paleozoic and Mesozoic tectonostratigraphic terranes and overlap assemblages. Following accretion to the continent, these terranes were transported northward along its margin along strike-slip faults such as the ancestral Denali fault that formed by oblique subduction. The terranes would have arrived at about their present position by Eocene time. It is commonly held that southwestern Alaska rotated into its present configuration by the middle Eocene, in response to impingement of northeast Asia against western Alaska, to form the southern Alaska orocline. Subsequent to this rotation during the middle and late Tertiary, southern Alaska terranes were presumably transported through the Alaska orocline by continued dextral movement along faults on the east limb of the orocline, such as the Denali and Tintina.

Both initial bending of the crust to form the orocline and subsequent transport of crust through the orocline would result in significant crustal shortening within the bend. A model is suggested herein whereby shortening is accommodated by a system of secondary, northeast-trending thrust faults. The distribution of these faults shows a consistent pattern within the bend: the faults appear to splay off at or near the major dextral shear zones and generally occur west of the orocline’s axis. That these faults occur where deformation would be greatest to crust driven through the bend suggests that the faults are directly related to crustal dynamics within the bend. If this model is correct, one may infer the sense and timing of motion along many faults that otherwise lack or have limited documented histories.

The interaction of strike-slip and thrust faults suggested by the model is reflected in the rupture sequence of the November 3, 2002, M7.9 Denali earthquake, which involved both initiation of slip along a previously unknown east-northeast–trending thrust fault and subsequent strike-slip motion along the McKinley strand of the east-west–trending Denali fault. This event is likely due, in part, to stresses imposed by accretion of the Yakutat terrane that is presently working its way into the bend of the orocline and deforming as a result of collision. Faulting along the western margin of the Yakutat terrane resembles that seen in central Alaska within the hinge of the bend. As such, it likely represents a present-day analog for crustal deformation associated with the orocline and may therefore provide clues to earlier stages of crustal deformation in central Alaska.

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GSA Special Papers

Orogenic curvature: Integrating paleomagnetic and structural analyses

Aviva J. Sussman
Aviva J. Sussman
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Arlo B. Weil
Arlo B. Weil
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Geological Society of America
Volume
383
ISBN print:
9780813723839
Publication date:
January 01, 2004

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