The Alaska Range suture zone exposes Cretaceous to Quaternary marine and nonmarine sedimentary and volcanic rocks sandwiched between oceanic rocks of the accreted Wrangellia composite terrane to the south and older continental terranes to the north. New U-Pb zircon ages, 40Ar/39Ar, ZHe, and AFT cooling ages, geochemical compositions, and geological field observations from these rocks provide improved constraints on the timing of Cretaceous to Miocene magmatism, sedimentation, and deformation within the collisional suture zone. Our results bear on the unclear displacement history of the seismically active Denali fault, which bisects the suture zone. Newly identified tuffs north of the Denali fault in sedimentary strata of the Cantwell Formation yield ca. 72 to ca. 68 Ma U-Pb zircon ages. Lavas sampled south of the Denali fault yield ca. 69 Ma 40Ar/39Ar ages and geochemical compositions typical of arc assemblages, ranging from basalt-andesite-trachyte, relatively high-K, and high concentrations of incompatible elements attributed to slab contribution (e.g., high Cs, Ba, and Th). The Late Cretaceous lavas and bentonites, together with regionally extensive coeval calc-alkaline plutons, record arc magmatism during contractional deformation and metamorphism within the suture zone. Latest Cretaceous volcanic and sedimentary strata are locally overlain by Eocene Teklanika Formation volcanic rocks with geochemical compositions transitional between arc and intraplate affinity. New detrital-zircon data from the modern Teklanika River indicate peak Teklanika volcanism at ca. 57 Ma, which is also reflected in zircon Pb loss in Cantwell Formation bentonites. Teklanika Formation volcanism may reflect hypothesized slab break-off and a Paleocene–Eocene period of a transform margin configuration. Mafic dike swarms were emplaced along the Denali fault from ca. 38 to ca. 25 Ma based on new 40Ar/39Ar ages. Diking along the Denali fault may have been localized by strike-slip extension following a change in direction of the subducting oceanic plate beneath southern Alaska from N-NE to NW at ca. 46–40 Ma. Diking represents the last recorded episode of significant magmatism in the central and eastern Alaska Range, including along the Denali fault. Two tectonic models may explain emplacement of more primitive and less extensive Eocene–Oligocene magmas: delamination of the Late Cretaceous–Paleocene arc root and/or thickened suture zone lithosphere, or a slab window created during possible Paleocene slab break-off. Fluvial strata exposed just south of the Denali fault in the central Alaska Range record synorogenic sedimentation coeval with diking and inferred strike-slip displacement. Deposition occurred ca. 29 Ma based on palynomorphs and the youngest detrital zircons. U-Pb detrital-zircon geochronology and clast compositional data indicate the fluvial strata were derived from sedimentary and igneous bedrock presently exposed within the Alaska Range, including Cretaceous sources presently exposed on the opposite (north) side of the fault. The provenance data may indicate ~150 km or more of dextral offset of the ca. 29 Ma strata from inferred sediment sources, but different amounts of slip are feasible.
Together, the dike swarms and fluvial strata are interpreted to record Oligocene strike-slip movement along the Denali fault system, coeval with strike-slip basin development along other segments of the fault. Diking and sedimentation occurred just prior to the onset of rapid and persistent exhumation ca. 25 Ma across the Alaska Range. This phase of reactivation of the suture zone is interpreted to reflect the translation along and convergence of southern Alaska across the Denali fault driven by highly coupled flat-slab subduction of the Yakutat microplate, which continues to accrete to the southern margin of Alaska. Furthermore, a change in Pacific plate direction and velocity at ca. 25 Ma created a more convergent regime along the apex of the Denali fault curve, likely contributing to the shutting off of near-fault extension-facilitated arc magmatism along this section of the fault system and increased exhumation rates.