News Release

New articles for Geosphere posted online first

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Geological Society of America

Boulder, Colo., USA: GSA’s dynamic online journal, Geosphere, posts articles online regularly. Locations and topics studied include mud volcanism; the Ponderosa fault zone; Coast Mountains, British Columbia; and degassing of helium in central Mexico. You can find these articles at

Revised age and regional correlations of Cenozoic strata on Bat Mountain, Death Valley region, California, USA, from zircon U-Pb geochronology of sandstones and ash-fall tuffs
Theresa M. Schwartz; A. Kate Souders; Jens-Erik Lundstern; Amy K. Gilmer; Ren A. Thompson
Basin analysis and tectonic reconstructions of the Cenozoic history of the Death Valley region, California, USA, are hindered by a lack of volcanic (tuff) age control in many stratigraphic successions exposed in the Grapevine and Funeral Mountains of California, USA. Although maximum depositional ages (MDAs) interpreted from detrital zircon U-Pb data may be a promising alternative to volcanic ages, arguments remain regarding the calculation of MDAs including, but not limited to, the number of “young” grains to consider (i.e., the spectrum of dates used to calculate the MDA); which grains, if any, should be ignored; which approaches yield results that are statistically rigorous; and ultimately, which approaches result in ages that are geologically reasonable. We compare commonly used metrics of detrital zircon MDA for five sandstone samples from the Cenozoic strata exposed on Bat Mountain in the southern Funeral Mountains of California—i.e., the youngest single grain (YSG), the weighted mean of the youngest grain cluster of two or more grains at 1σ uncertainty (YC1σ(2+)) and of three or more grains at 2σ uncertainty (YC2σ(3+)), the youngest graphical peak (YPP), and the maximum likelihood age (MLA). Every sandstone sample yielded abundant Cenozoic zircon U-Pb dates that formed unimodal, near-normal age distributions that were clearly distinguishable from the next-oldest grains in each sample and showed an apparent up-section decrease in peak age. Benchmarked against published K/Ar and 40 Ar/39Ar ages and five new zircon U-Pb ages of ash-fall tuffs, our analysis parallels prior studies and demonstrates that many MDA metrics—YSG, YC1σ(2+), YC2σ(3+), and YPP—drift toward unreasonably young or old values. In contrast, the maximum likelihood estimation approach and the resulting MLA metric consistently produce geologically appropriate estimates of MDA without arbitrary omission of any young (or old) zircon dates. Using the MLAs of sandstones and zircon U-Pb ages of interbedded ash-fall tuffs, we develop a new age model for the Oligocene–Miocene Amargosa Valley Formation (deposited ca. 28.5–18.5 Ma) and the Miocene Bat Mountain Formation (deposited ca. 15.5–13.5 Ma) and revise correlations to Cenozoic strata across the eastern Death Valley region.

Stratigraphy of the Eocene–Oligocene Titus Canyon Formation, Death Valley, California (USA), and Eocene extensional tectonism in the Basin and Range
Nikolas Midttun; Nathan A. Niemi; Bianca Gallina
Geologic mapping, measured sections, and geochronologic data elucidate the tectono-stratigraphic development of the Titus Canyon extensional basin in Death Valley, California (USA), and provide new constraints on the age of the Titus Canyon Formation, one of the earliest syn-extensional deposits in the central Basin and Range. Detrital zircon maximum depositional ages (MDAs) and compiled 40Ar/39Ar ages indicate that the Titus Canyon Formation spans 40(?)–30 Ma, consistent with an inferred Duchesnean age for a unique assemblage of mammalian fossils in the lower part of the formation. The Titus Canyon Formation preserves a shift in depositional environment from fluvial to lacustrine at ca. 35 Ma, which along with a change in detrital zircon provenance may reflect both the onset of local extensional tectonism and climatic changes at the Eocene–Oligocene boundary. Our data establish the Titus Canyon basin as the southernmost basin in a system of late Eocene extensional basins that formed along the axis of the Sevier orogenic belt. The distribution of lacustrine deposits in these Eocene basins defines the extent of a low-relief orogenic plateau (Nevadaplano) that occupied eastern Nevada at least through Eocene time. As such, the age and character of Titus Canyon Formation implies that the Nevadaplano may have extended into the central Basin and Range, ~200 km farther south than previously recognized. Development of the Titus Canyon extensional basin precedes local Farallon slab removal by ~20 m.y., implying that other mechanisms, such as plate boundary stress changes due to decreased convergence rates in Eocene time, are a more likely trigger for early extension in the central Basin and Range.

Mantellic degassing of helium in an extensional active tectonic setting at the front of a magmatic arc (central Mexico)
Andrea Billarent-Cedillo; Eliseo Hernandez-Pérez; Gilles Levresse; Claudio Inguaggiato; Luca Ferrari ...
The physicochemical and isotopic characteristics of groundwater and dissolved gas of central Mexico provide valuable information about the geologic and tectonic context of the area. Low–high-enthalpy manifestations (up to 98 °C in springs and more than 100 °C in geothermal wells) are distributed within the San Juan del Río, Querétaro, and Celaya hydrologic basins, located at the boundary between the current Mexican magmatic arc and an extensional continental area with intraplate volcanism called Mesa Central Province. Groundwaters in the study area represent a mixture between the cold water end-member with a Ca2+-Mg2+ -HCO3- composition and a hydrothermal end-member enriched in Na +, K+, SO2−, and Cl-. Cold and hot groundwaters δ2H and δ18O plot along the same evaporation lines and do not exhibit a magmatic input. Dissolved and free gas do not show a typical volcanic composition signature. He and Ne isotope composition provide evidence of an important contribution of non-atmospheric noble gases. Although helium composition mainly has a crustal origin (21–83%), the mantellic contribution (1–39%) is higher than expected for an area lacking recent volcanism. A volatile-rich magma aging at depth was discarded as the source of this mantellic helium signature but points out a recent mantellic contribution. Thus, we propose that mantellic helium comes from the sublithospheric mantle into the shallow crust through the highly permeable tectonic boundaries between the geologic provinces, namely the N−S Taxco−San Miguel de Allende and Chapala-Tula fault systems. Mantellic helium flow rates through these fault systems were estimated to have values ranging from 0.1 m/yr to 2.9 m/yr. This He flux range implies that aside from subduction, mantle volatile degassing enhanced by crustal fault systems is the main degassing process in the region studied.

Evidence for regionally continuous Early Cretaceous sinistral shear zones along the western flank of the Coast Mountains, coastal British Columbia, Canada
Jordan W. Wang; George Gehrels; Paul Kapp; Kurt Sundell
The plate-boundary conditions of the Mesozoic North American Cordillera remain poorly constrained, but most studies support large (>800 km) southward motion of the Insular and Intermontane superterranes during Jurassic–Cretaceous time. An implicit feature in these models of large coastwise displacements is the presence of one or more continental-scale sinistral strike-slip faults that could have dismembered and displaced terrane fragments southward along the western margin of North America prior to the onset of mid-Cretaceous shortening and dextral strike-slip faulting. In this study, we documented a system of sinistral intra-arc shear zones within the Insular superterrane that may have accommodated large southward motion. Employment of a new large-n igneous zircon U-Pb method more than doubled the precision of measurements obtained by laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry (from ~1% to 0.5%) and allowed us to demonstrate the close temporal-spatial relationship between magmatism and deformation by dating comagmatic crosscutting phases. Crystallization ages of pre-, syn-, and postkinematic intrusions show that the intra-arc shear zones record an Early Cretaceous phase of sinistral oblique convergence that terminated between 107 and 101 Ma. Shear zone cessation coincided with: (1) collapse of the Gravina basin, (2) development of a single voluminous arc that stitched the Insular and Intermontane superterranes together, and (3) initiation of east-west contractional deformation throughout the Coast Mountains. We interpret these concurrent tectono-magmatic events to mark a shift in plate kinematics from a sinistral-oblique system involving separate terranes and intervening ocean basins to a strongly convergent two-plate margin involving a single oceanic plate and the newly assembled western margin of North America.

The Pondosa fault zone: A distributed dextral-normal-oblique fault system in northeastern California, USA
Jessica Thompson Jobe; Richard Briggs; Ryan Gold; Stephen DeLong; Madeline Hille ...
The tectonic domains of Basin and Range extension, Cascadia subduction zone contraction, and Walker Lane dextral transtension converge in the Mushroom Rock region of northeastern California, USA. We combined analysis of high-resolution topographic data, bedrock mapping, 40Ar/ 39Ar geochronology, low-temperature thermochronology, and existing geologic and fault mapping to characterize an extensive dextral-normal-oblique fault system called the Pondosa fault zone. This fault zone extends north-northwest from the Pit River east of Soldier Mountain, California, into moderately high-relief volcanic topography as far north as the Bartle (California) townsite with normal and dextral offset apparent in geomorphology and fault exposures. New and existing 40Ar/39Ar and radiocarbon dating of offset lava flows provides ages of 12.4 ka to 9.6 Ma for late Cenozoic stratigraphic units. Scarp morphology and geomorphic expression indicate that the fault system was active in the late Pleistocene. The Pondosa fault zone may represent a dextral-oblique accommodation zone between north-south–oriented Basin and Range extensional fault systems and/or part of the Sierra Nevada–Oregon Coast block microplate boundary.

A major Miocene deepwater mud canopy system: The North Sabah–Pagasa Wedge, northwestern Borneo
C.K. Morley; W. Promrak; W. Apuanram; P. Chaiyo; S. Chantraprasert ...
Three-dimensional seismic reflection data, well data, and analogues from areas with extensive shale tectonics indicate that the enigmatic deepwater “shale nappe or thrust sheet” region of northern offshore Sabah, Malaysia, now referred to as the North Sabah–Pagasa Wedge (NSPW), is actually a region of major mobile shale activity characterized by mini-basins and mud pipes, chambers, and volcanoes. A short burst of extensive mud volcano activity produced a submarine mud canopy complex composed of ~50 mud volcano centers (each probably composed of multiple mud volcanoes) that cover individual areas of between 4 and 80 km2. The total area of dense mud canopy development is ~1900 km2. During the middle Miocene, the post-collisional NSPW was composed predominantly of overpressured shales that were loaded by as much as 4 km thickness of clastics in a series of mini-basins. Following mini-basin development, there was a very important phase of mud volcanism, which built extensive mud canopies (coalesced mud flows) and vent complexes. The mud canopies affected deposition of the overlying and interfingering deposits, including late middle to early late Miocene deepwater turbidite sandstones, which are reservoirs in some fields (e.g., Rotan field). The presence of the extensive mud volcanoes indicates very large volumes of gas had to be generated within the NSPW to drive the mud volcanism. The Sabah example is only the second mud canopy system to be described in the literature and is the largest and most complex.

Tectonic setting of metamorphism and exhumation of eclogite-facies rocks in the South Beishan orogen, northwestern China
Jie Li; Chen Wu; Xuanhua Chen; An Yin; Andrew V. Zuza ...
High-pressure metamorphic rocks occur as distinct belts along subduction zones and collisional orogens or as isolated blocks within orogens or mélanges and represent continental materials that were subducted to deep depths and subsequently exhumed to the shallow crust. Understanding the burial and exhumation processes and the sizes and shapes of the high-pressure blocks is important for providing insight into global geodynamics and plate tectonic processes. The South Beishan orogen of northwestern China is notable for the exposure of early Paleozoic high-pressure (HP), eclogite-facies metamorphic rocks, yet the tectonism associated with the HP metamorphism and mechanism of exhumation are poorly understood despite being key to understanding the tectonic evolution of the larger Central Asian Orogenic System. To address this issue, we examined the geometries, kinematics, and overprinting relationships of structures and determined the temperatures and timings of deformation and metamorphism of the HP rocks of the South Beishan orogen. Geochronological results show that the South Beishan orogen contains ca. 1.55–1.35 Ga basement metamorphic rocks and ca. 970–866 Ma granitoids generated during a regional tectono-magmatic event. Ca. 500–450 Ma crustal thickening and HP metamorphism may have been related to regional contraction in the South Beishan orogen. Ca. 900–800 Ma protoliths experienced eclogite-facies metamorphism (~1.2–2.1 GPa and ~700–800 °C) in thickened lower crust. These HP rocks were subsequently exhumed after ca. 450 Ma to mid-crustal depths in the footwall of a regional detachment fault during southeast-northwest–oriented crustal extension, possibly as the result of roll-back of a subducted oceanic slab. Prior to ca. 438 Ma, north-south–oriented contraction resulted in isoclinal folding of the detachment fault and HP rocks. Following this contractional phase in the middle Mesozoic, the South Beishan orogen experienced thrusting interpreted to be the response to the closure of the Tethyan and Paleo-Asian Ocean domains. This contractional phase was followed by late Mesozoic extension and subsequent surface erosion that controlled exhumation of the HP rocks.

GEOSPHERE articles are available at Representatives of the media may obtain complimentary copies of GEOSPHERE articles by contacting Kea Giles at the address above. Please discuss articles of interest with the authors before publishing stories on their work, and please refer to GEOSPHERE in articles published. Non-media requests for articles may be directed to GSA Sales and Service,

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