Abstract

The seismically active eastern and western margins of the northern Basin and Range have been extensively studied, yet the northwestern margin of the province remains incompletely understood. The Black Rock Range of northwestern Nevada straddles the transition from the Basin and Range province to the south and east, and flat-lying volcanic plateaus to the west. This poorly understood range preserves a remarkably complete record of Cenozoic magmatism and provides an important window into the pre-Miocene history of the unextended volcanic plateaus of northeastern California and southern Oregon. Geologic mapping and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology from the northern Black Rock Range document three significant episodes of Eocene to middle Miocene volcanism. Eocene (35 Ma) basalts directly overlie Mesozoic granites and arc-related volcanic and sedimentary rocks. Locally erupted Oligocene to early Miocene (27–21 Ma) bimodal volcanic rocks comprise the bulk of the Cenozoic section and conformably overlie the Eocene basalt flows. These bimodal units include rhyolitic lavas, variably welded rhyolitic ash flows, unwelded ash-fall deposits, and thin basalt flows. In the neighboring Pine Forest Range ∼20 km to the north, similar Oligocene to early Miocene units are overlain by more than 500 m of ca. 16.4 Ma Steens-equivalent basalt flows and are capped by ca. 16 Ma rhyolitic ash-flow tuffs. In the northern Black Rock Range, the ca. 16.4 Ma middle Miocene basalts are absent from the section, and a 16.2 Ma rhyolitic ash-flow tuff directly overlies the early Miocene flows. Basaltic and rhyolitic volcanic products in the northern Black Rock Range span 35–16 Ma, with many of the Oligocene volcanic units derived from local vents and dikes. Despite the map-scale complexities of locally derived lava flows, the Cenozoic section is broadly conformable and dips gently (∼5°–10°) to the northwest. The region experi enced no significant tilting between 35 and 16 Ma, with moderate tilting (∼5°–10°) and concomitant uplift occurring after 16 Ma. This tectonic history is consistent with that of the nearby Pine Forest and Santa Rosa Ranges, where low-temperature thermochronology documents footwall exhumation along the range-bounding normal faults after 12 Ma. The velocity structure of the crust beneath the northern Black Rock Range is constrained by a recent geophysical survey (seismic reflection, refraction, and gravity) and contains gradients that correspond to basin depths predicted by our geologic mapping. Together with recently completed geological and geophysical studies from the surrounding region, our results suggest that the evolution of the northwestern margin of the Basin and Range was characterized by long-lived and voluminous volcanism without significant tectonism, followed by low-magnitude (≤20%) extension along high-angle normal faults.

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