Laurentia: Turning Points in the Evolution of a Continent
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The North American continent has a rich record of the tectonic environments and processes that occur throughout much of Earth history. This Memoir focuses on seven “turning points” that had specific and lasting impacts on the evolution of Laurentia: (1) The Neoarchean, characterized by cratonization; (2) the Paleoproterozoic and the initial assembly of Laurentia; (3) the Mesoproterozoic southern margin of Laurentia; (4) the Midcontinent rift and the Grenville orogeny; (5) the Neoproterozoic breakup of Rodinia; (6) the mid-Paleozoic phases of the Appalachian-Caledonian orogen; and (7) the Jurassic–Paleogene assembly of the North American Cordillera. The chapters in this Memoir provide syntheses of current understanding of the geologic evolution of Laurentia and North America, as well as new hypotheses for testing.
Neoproterozoic of Laurentia
Published:January 23, 2023
Francis A. Macdonald, W. Adolph Yonkee, Rebecca M. Flowers, Nicholas L. Swanson-Hysell, 2023. "Neoproterozoic of Laurentia", Laurentia: Turning Points in the Evolution of a Continent, Steven J. Whitmeyer, Michael L. Williams, Dawn A. Kellett, Basil Tikoff
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Neoproterozoic to Cambrian isolation of Laurentia during the breakup of Rodinia was associated with multiple large igneous provinces, protracted multiphase rifting, and variable subsidence histories along different margin segments. In this contribution, we develop a paleogeographic model for the Neoproterozoic tectonic evolution of Laurentia based on available stratigraphic, paleomagnetic, petrologic, geochronologic, and thermochronologic data. Early Tonian strata are confined to intracontinental basins in northern Laurentia. Breakup of Rodinia around Laurentia began in earnest with emplacement of the ca. 778 Ma Gunbarrel large igneous province, interpreted to have accompanied separation of the North China block along the Yukon promontory, and onset of localized, intracratonic extension southward along the western margin. Eruption of the ca. 760–740 Ma Mount Rogers volcanic complex along the Southern Appalachian segment of the eastern margin may record extension associated with separation of the Kalahari or South American terranes. At about the same time, the Australia-Mawson blocks began separating from the Sonoran segment of the southern margin and Mojave promontory. Emplacement of the ca. 720 Ma Franklin large igneous province along the northern margin was likely associated with separation of Siberia and was followed by widespread bimodal volcanism and extension along the western margin spanning ca. 720–670 Ma, leading to partial separation of continental fragments, possibly including Tasmania, Zealandia, and Tarim. Emplacement of the ca. 615 Ma Central Iapetus magmatic province along the eastern margin marked rifting that led to separation of Baltica and Amazonia, and partial separation of the Arequipa-Pampia-Antofalla fragments. During the late Ediacaran to Cambrian, the western, northern, eastern, and southern margins all experienced a second episode of local extension and mafic magmatism, including emplacement of the ca. 585 Ma Grenville dikes and ca. 540–532 Ma Wichita large igneous province, leading to final separation of continental fragments and Cambrian rift-drift transitions on each margin.
Cryogenian rifting on the western and northern margins and segments of the eastern margin was contemporaneous with low-latitude glaciation. Sturtian and Marinoan glacial deposits and their distinctive ca. 660 Ma and 635 Ma cap carbonates provide important event horizons that are correlated around the western and northern margins. Evidence for Ediacaran glaciation is absent on Laurentia, with the exception of glacial deposits in Scotland, and putative glacial deposits in Virginia, which both formed on the poleward edge of Laurentia. Patterns of exhumation and deposition on the craton display spatial variability, likely controlled by the impingement of mantle plumes associated with mantle upwelling and extensional basin formation during the piecemeal breakup of Rodinia. Glaciation and eustasy were secondary drivers for the distribution of erosion and Neoproterozoic sedimentation on North America.