Abstract

The paleomagnetic and geochronologic record of Alaska is complicated by overprints that make it difficult to relate the terranes of northern and southern Alaska to each other and to North America. To better understand these relationships and the overprinting, paleomagnetic and K-Ar dating samples were analyzed from the three major geologic units of the Yukon-Koyukuk province (YKP) of central Alaska. These units consist of a basal Jurassic-Early Cretaceous volcanic (island-arc) assemblage, Albian-Cenomanian clastic sedimentary rocks, and bimodal Eocene volcanic rocks.

K-Ar age determinations of the early Tertiary volcanic rocks form two distinct groups. The older group (65–49 Ma) is mostly felsic and probably represents the maximum inboard penetration of low-angle subduction-related volcanism. These older rocks were deformed during the regional deformation of the YKP. The younger group (44−43 Ma) is post-deformational and composed dominantly of basalt. These results bracket a time (49−44 Ma) when deformation ceased in the province. This time interval is coincident with a major transition from convergence to strike-slip and extensional tectonic style throughout Alaska.

The geologic units of the YKP display two characteristic paleomagnetic signatures. Primary directions (based on positive reversal, conglomerate, and/or bedding tilt stability tests) were obtained from the Albian-Cenomanian sedimentary rocks and Eocene volcanic rocks. The mid-Cretaceous sedimentary rocks show about 15° of poleward motion between 90−56 Ma (a time of high rates of convergence between Alaska and the Pacific and Eurasian plates). Age-equivalent rocks from neighboring regions (St. Matthew Island and the Alaskan North Slope) also indicate similar amounts of poleward (northward) motion, which suggests that the whole of western and northern Alaska may have moved northward about 10° relative to North America as a more or less coherent block. Paleomagnetic results from the Eocene volcanic rocks indicate that the YKP was in place by 56 Ma and formed part of the accretionary nucleus that served as a backstop for the accreted terranes of southern Alaska. Secondary (remagnetized) directions are recorded in the basal island-arc assemblage and in Albian-Cenomanian sediments near younger igneous occurrences. The clustering of secondary directions in the geographic reference frame indicates that they were acquired after deformation ceased (⩽49−44 Ma), which is consistent with the coincidence of the mean of these directions and the 54−44 Ma North American reference direction.

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