Although the Atlantic continental margin of the eastern United States is an archetypal passive margin, episodes of rejuvenation following continental breakup are increasingly well documented. To better constrain this history of rejuvenation along the southern portion of this continental margin, we present zircon U-Pb (ZUPb) age, zircon fission-track (ZFT) age, apatite U-Pb (AUPb) age, and apatite fission-track (AFT) age and length data from six bedrock samples. The samples were collected along the boundary between the exposed Appalachian hinterland (Piedmont province) and the updip limit of passive margin strata (Coastal Plain province). The samples were collected from central Virginia southward to the South Carolina–Georgia border. ZUPb age distributions are generally consistent with geologic mapping in each of the sample areas. The AUPb data are highly discordant owing to high common-Pb abundances, but for two plutons at the northern and southern ends of the sample area, they define a discordia regression line that indicates substantial Permo-Triassic exhumation-driven cooling. ZFT age distributions are highly dispersed but define central values ranging from Permian to Jurassic. AFT data mostly appear to define a singular underlying cooling age, generally approximately Jurassic or Early Cretaceous. Apatite fission tracks are moderately long (mean lengths in the range of ~13.5 µm), however track lengths for one sample in central North Carolina are shorter (~12.5 µm).
To interpret the post-breakup thermal history, we present inverse models of time-temperature history for the five plutonic samples. The models show a history of (1) rapid cooling (>10 °C/m.y.) from deep-crustal to near-surface temperatures by the Triassic, (2) hundreds of degrees of Triassic reheating, (3) Jurassic–Early Cretaceous cooling (at rates of 1–10 °C/m.y.), and (4) slow Late Cretaceous–Cenozoic cooling (~1 °C/m.y.). An additional suite of forward models is presented to further evaluate the magnitude of maximum Triassic reheating at one sample site that is particularly well constrained by thermal maturity data. The model results and geologic reasoning suggest that the inverse models may overestimate Triassic paleotemperatures but that other aspects of the inverse modeling are robust. Overall, this thermal history can be reconciled with several aspects of the lithostratigraphy of distal parts of the continental margin, including the lack of Jurassic–earliest Cretaceous strata beneath the southern Atlantic coastal plain and Cretaceous–Cenozoic grain-size trends.