The influence of Precambrian basement structures on subsequent deformation is of considerable relevance to studies of continental evolution. COCORP deep seismic-reflection profiles were recently recorded in southeastern Wyoming, where several major, but temporally separated, tectonic elements of the western United States are superimposed. Of these, a fundamental boundary between Archean and Proterozoic basements and the eastern front of Laramide deformation were the principal targets of the reflection survey. The former may represent an ancient Proterozoic plate boundary; the latter is a prominent physiographic feature that signifies crustal deformation far within the North American craton, more than 1,500 km from the nearest coeval plate margin.
The major crustal feature controlling a lateral, north-south variation in Laramide tectonic style appears to be the Archean-Proterozoic crustal boundary, known in the nearby Medicine. Bow Mountains as the Mullen Creek-Nash Fork shear zone. COCORP data in the Laramie Mountains and the Laramie Basin suggest that this shear zone dips ∼ 55° to the southeast. Northwest of the shear zone, the seismic basement is also characterized by southeast-dipping events, suggesting that the early Proterozoic tectonics that produced the shear zone were distributed over a wide region. Complex reflections down to 15-km depth or more under the Laramie Basin may correspond to structures or erosional truncations in metasediments overlying the Archean basement complex. Deep crustal events (between 35 and 40 km) north of the shear zone are short and discontinuous, in contrast with flat, laterally continuous reflections south of the shear zone at about 48-km depth which are interpreted as the crust-mantle transition. Thus, COCORP data and published results of regional refraction and gravity surveys suggest that the crust is significantly thinner in the Archean basement terrane northwest of the shear zone than it is in the Proterozoic province to the southeast. Differences in crustal thickness may be partly responsible for the difference between Laramide structures in Wyoming and Colorado, and a thin crust may also have facilitated Laramide deformation farther east in the Black Hills, located north of the shear zone.