Abstract

Active transpressional fault systems are typically associated with the development of broad zones of deformation and topographic development; however, the complex geometries typically associated with these systems often make it difficult to isolate the important boundary conditions that control transpressional orogenic growth. The Denali fault system is widely recognized as transpressional due to the presence of the Denali fault, a major, active, right-lateral fault, and subparallel zones of thrust faults and fault-related folding along both the north and south flanks of the Alaska Range. Measured Quaternary and Holocene slip rates exist for the Denali fault system and portions of the adjacent thrust system, but the partitioning of fault slip between contractional and translational components of this transpressional system has not been previously studied in detail. Exploiting the relatively simple geometry of the Denali fault, we analyze the style and distribution of active faulting within the Alaska Range to define patterns of strain accommodation and determine how contractional and translational strain is partitioned across the Denali fault system. As the trace of the Denali fault curves by ∼70° across central Alaska, the mean strike of the thrust system to the north remains subparallel to the Denali fault, while to the south, the few faults with known or suspected Quaternary offset are oblique to the Denali fault. This relationship suggests that as the Denali fault system accommodates local fault-parallel strike slip, it partitions the residual part of the regional NW-directed plate motion into NW-SE shortening south of the Denali fault and shortening perpendicular to the Denali fault to the north. The degree of slip partitioning is consistent with a balanced slip budget for the two primary faults that contribute displacement to the Denali fault system (the eastern Denali fault and Totschunda fault). The current obliquity of displacement south of the Denali fault is the result of the late Cenozoic development of the Totschunda fault, which provides a more direct connection for the transfer of strain from the Fairweather transform fault to the Denali fault system. The transmitted strain is partitioned into right-lateral slip on the Denali fault and into Denali fault-normal shortening that is accommodated by thrust faulting in the Alaska Range and distributed left-lateral slip faulting within interior Alaska to the north.

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