Abstract

An unusual freshwater-diatom-bearing pyroclastic-debris-flow deposit is present within the shallow-marine upper Eocene to Oligocene Pittsburg Bluff Formation of northwestern Oregon. The subaerially generated pyroclastic-debris flow rapidly debouched into the shallow-marine environment. The flow formed a wedge-shaped deposit, up to 3.5 m thick, that is mappable over several square kilometers. Thickness and maximum clast size decrease offshore; near the distal margins the debris flow mixed with seawater and became a high-density shelf turbidity current. Where emplaced above storm wave base, the deposit was locally reworked to form a thin lag conglomerate. Thalassinoides burrows are present in the upper 30 cm of the deposit. The rhyodacite chemical and mineral composition, regional geologic setting, and thickness and clast-size variations indicate a nearby highly explosive calcalkaline volcanic source to the northeast (i.e., Western Cascade are). This deposit documents the earliest known Cascade arc explosive event that directly affected sedimentation in the Tertiary forearc basin of western Oregon. A sanidine- and biotite-bearing ash fall tuff 3 m above the debris-flow deposit was derived from a backarc eruptive source (e.g., Oligocene John Day Formation). This tuff yielded an 40 Ar/ 39 Ar date of 29.83 Ma. The well-preserved diatom flora within the debris-flow deposit matrix extends the geologic range of some genera (e.g., Gomphonema ) and widens the geographic distribution of others (e.g., Gomphopleura ). Possible scenarios to explain the presence of exclusively freshwater diatoms in the debris-flow deposit in this shallow-marine section include: (1) a primary pyroclastic debris flow may have passed through a diatom-rich lake between the site of eruption and its entrance into the sea; (2) freshly erupted pyroclastics temporarily blocked a river drainage, creating an alpine lake that produced the debris flow upon dam failure; (3) primary pyroclastic debris may have been vented directly through a caldera or crater lake rich in diatomaceous sediment.

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