New geochronologic, geochemical, sedimentologic, and compositional data from the central Wrangell volcanic belt (WVB) document basin development and volcanism linked to subduction of overthickened oceanic crust to the northern Pacific plate margin. The Frederika Formation and overlying Wrangell Lavas comprise >3 km of sedimentary and volcanic strata exposed in the Wrangell Mountains of south-central Alaska (United States). Measured stratigraphic sections and lithofacies analyses document lithofacies associations that reflect deposition in alluvial-fluvial-lacustrine environments routinely influenced by volcanic eruptions. Expansion of intrabasinal volcanic centers prompted progradation of vent-proximal volcanic aprons across basinal environments. Coal deposits, lacustrine strata, and vertical juxtaposition of basinal to proximal lithofacies indicate active basin subsidence that is attributable to heat flow associated with intrabasinal volcanic centers and extension along intrabasinal normal faults. The orientation of intrabasinal normal faults is consistent with transtensional deformation along the Totschunda-Fairweather fault system. Paleocurrents, compositional provenance, and detrital geochronologic ages link sediment accumulation to erosion of active intrabasinal volcanoes and to a lesser extent Mesozoic igneous sources. Geochemical compositions of interbedded lavas are dominantly calc-alkaline, range from basaltic andesite to rhyolite in composition, and share geochemical characteristics with Pliocene–Quaternary phases of the western WVB linked to subduction-related magmatism. The U/Pb ages of tuffs and 40Ar/39Ar ages of lavas indicate that basin development and volcanism commenced by 12.5–11.0 Ma and persisted until at least ca. 5.3 Ma. Eastern sections yield older ages (12.5–9.3 Ma) than western sections (9.6–8.3 Ma). Samples from two western sections yield even younger ages of 5.3 Ma.
Integration of new and published stratigraphic, geochronologic, and geochemical data from the entire WVB permits a comprehensive interpretation of basin development and volcanism within a regional tectonic context. We propose a model in which diachronous volcanism and transtensional basin development reflect progressive insertion of a thickened oceanic crustal slab of the Yakutat microplate into the arcuate continental margin of southern Alaska coeval with reported changes in plate motions. Oblique northwestward subduction of a thickened oceanic crustal slab during Oligocene to Middle Miocene time produced transtensional basins and volcanism along the eastern edge of the slab along the Duke River fault in Canada and subduction-related volcanism along the northern edge of the slab near the Yukon-Alaska border. Volcanism and basin development migrated progressively northwestward into eastern Alaska during Middle Miocene through Holocene time, concomitant with a northwestward shift in plate convergence direction and subduction collision of progressively thicker crust against the syntaxial plate margin.