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Geological Sciences

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The spatial-temporal evolution of intracontinental faults and the forces that drive their style, orientation, and timing are central to understanding tectonic processes. Intracontinental NW-striking dextral faults in the Gabbs Valley–Gillis Ranges (hereafter referred to as the GVGR), Nevada, define a structural domain known as the eastern Central Walker Lane located east of the western margin of the North American plate. To consider how changes in boundary type along the western margin of the North American plate influenced both the initiation and continued dextral fault slip to the present day in the GVGR, we combine our new detailed geologic mapping, structural studies, and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology with published geologic maps to calculate early to middle Miocene dextral fault-slip rates. In the GVGR, Mesozoic basement is nonconformably overlain by a late Oligocene to Miocene sequence dominated by tuffs, lavas, and sedimentary rocks. These rocks are cut and offset by four primary NW-striking dextral faults, from east to west the Petrified Spring, Benton Spring, Gumdrop Hills, and Agai Pah Hills–Indian Head faults. A range of geologic markers, including tuff- and lava-filled paleovalleys, the southern extent of lava flows, and a normal fault, show average dextral offset magnitudes of 9.6 ± 1.1 km, 7.0 ± 1.7 km, 9.7 ± 1.0 km, and 4.9 ± 1.1 km across the four faults, respectively. Cumulative dextral offset across the GVGR is 31.2 ± 2.3 km. Initiation of slip along the Petrified Spring fault is tightly bracketed between 15.99 ± 0.05 Ma and 15.71 ± 0.03 Ma, whereas slip along the other faults initiated after 24.30 ± 0.05 Ma to 20.14 ± 0.26 Ma. Assuming that slip along all four faults initiated at the same time as the Petrified Spring fault yields calculated dextral fault-slip rates of 0.4 ± 0.1–0.6 ± 0.1 mm/yr, 0.4 ± 0.1–0.5 ± 0.1 mm/yr, 0.6 ± 0.1 mm/yr, and 0.3 ± 0.1 mm/yr on the four faults, respectively. Middle Miocene initiation of dextral fault slip across the GVGR overlaps with the onset of normal slip along range-bounding faults in the western Basin and Range to the north and the northern Eastern California shear zone to the south. Based on this spatial-temporal relationship, we propose that dextral fault slip across the GVGR defines a kinematic link or accommodation zone between the two regions of extension. At the time of initiation of dextral slip across the GVGR, the plate-boundary setting to the west was characterized by subduction of the Farallon plate beneath the North American plate. To account for the middle Miocene onset of extension across the Basin and Range and dextral slip in the GVGR, we hypothesize that middle Miocene trench retreat drove westward motion of the Sierra Nevada and behind it, crustal extension across the Basin and Range and NW-dextral shear within the GVGR. During the Pliocene, the plate boundary to the west changed to NW-dextral shear between the Pacific and North American plates, which drove continued dextral slip along the same faults within the GVGR because they were fortuitously aligned subparallel to plate boundary motion.


This article was originally published Open Access in Geosphere. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.



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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License


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