Abstract

In the western Great Basin of North America, a system of dextral faults accommodates 15%–25% of the Pacific–North American plate motion. The northern Walker Lane in northwest Nevada and northeast California occupies the northern terminus of this system. This young evolving part of the plate boundary offers insight into how strike-slip fault systems develop and may reflect the birth of a transform fault. A belt of overlapping, left-stepping dextral faults dominates the northern Walker Lane. Offset segments of a W-trending Oligocene paleovalley suggest ∼20–30 km of cumulative dextral slip beginning ca. 9–3 Ma. The inferred long-term slip rate of ∼2–10 mm/yr is compatible with global positioning system observations of the current strain field. We interpret the left-stepping faults as macroscopic Riedel shears developing above a nascent lithospheric-scale transform fault. The strike-slip faults end in arrays of ∼N-striking normal faults, suggesting that dextral shear diffuses into extension in the Great Basin. Coeval extension and dextral shear have induced slight counterclockwise fault-block rotations, which may ultimately rotate Riedel shears toward the main shear zone at depth, thus facilitating development of a throughgoing strike-slip fault.

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