Abstract

Fractures in Late Cretaceous to Late Pleistocene sediments in Saskatchewan, eastern Montana, and western North Dakota form two vertical, orthogonal sets trending northeast–southwest and northwest–southeast. The pattern is consistent, regardless of rock type or age (except for concretionary sandstone). Both sets appear to be extensional in origin and are similar in character to joints in Alberta. Modem stream valleys also trend in the same two dominant directions and may be controlled by the underlying fractures.Elevation variations on the sub-Mannville (Early Cretaceous) unconformity form a rectilinear pattern also parallel to the fracture sets, suggesting that fracturing was initiated at least as early as Late Jurassic. It may have begun earlier, but there are insufficient data at present to extend the time of initiation.We interpret the fractures as the result of vertical uplift together with plate motion: the westward drift of North America. The northeast–southwest-directed maximum principal horizontal stress of the midcontinent stress field is generated by viscous drag effects between the North American plate and the mantle. Vertical uplift, erosion, or both together produce a horizontal tensile state in near-surface materials, and with the addition of a directed horizontal stress through plate motion, vertical tension cracks are generated parallel to that horizontal stress (northeast–southwest). Nearly instantaneous elastic rebound results in the production of second-order joints (northwest–southeast) perpendicular to the first. In this manner, the body of rock is being subjected with time to complex alternation of northeast–southwest and northwest–southeast horizontal stresses, resulting in the continuous and contemporaneous production of two perpendicular extensional joint sets.

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