Paleomagnetism and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology of gabbro sills at Mariscal Mountain anticline, southern Big Bend National Park, Texas: Implications for the timing of Laramide tectonism and vertical axis rotations in the southern Cordilleran orogenic belt

S. S. Harlan, J. W. Geissman, C. D. Henry, Tullis C. Onstott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

Mariscal Mountain anticline is a major Laramide asymmetric fold located along the frontal margin of the Cordilleran orogenic belt in the Trans‐Pecos region of southwest Texas. Exposed within the limbs and nose of the anticline are concordant mafic and felsic intrusions whose emplacement, based largely on their arcuate outcrop geometry, has been interpreted to predate folding. Paleomagnetic fold tests on samples from large (≥ 30 m thick) and thin (≤ l m thick) gabbro sills are negative at the 99% confidence level. Baked sandstones adjacent to the thick sill give sample directions identical to those of the gabbro, whereas sample directions from a site well removed from thermal effects of the gabbro are scattered. Results of the contact tests are consistent with a thermoremanent origin for the gabbro sill magnetization. The negative fold test indicates that sill intrusion at Mariscal Mountain anticline postdated Laramide folding. Two 40Ar/39Ar analyses of plagioclase from the gabbro give discordant age spectra but yield an inverse correlation age of 37.0 ± 1.3 Ma (2σ). This date is similar to those from rocks of similar composition elsewhere in Trans‐Pecos Texas, but significantly younger than whole rock and pyroxene K‐Ar dates of Late Cretaceous and early Eocene age commonly cited for the Mariscal Mountain gabbro. The paleomagnetic and geochronologic data indicate that Laramide deformation had clearly ceased by late Eocene/early Oligocene time, consistent with absence of contractional deformation in middle Eocene to lower Oligocene volcanic and sedimentary rocks elsewhere in the region. Although paleomagnetic data from the gabbro sills may not adequately average secular variation, the in situ group mean direction (D = 348.6°, I = 50.9°, k = 65.1, α95 = 4.3°, n = 18 sites) is indistinguishable from expected mid‐Tertiary reference directions. This indicates no evidence of significant vertical axis rotation in the Mariscal Mountain area. Analysis of paleomagnetic data from studies elsewhere in the Big Bend region indicates that significant problems exist with most data sets used to argue for the existence of local vertical axis rotations. Thus we conclude that existing paleomagnetic evidence regarding the timing and magnitude of rotations associated with Basin and Range extension is equivocal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-321
Number of pages15
JournalTectonics
Volume14
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1995

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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