Cambrian Sauk transgression in the Grand Canyon region redefined by detrital zircons

Karl Karlstrom, James Hagadorn, George Gehrels, William Matthews, Mark Schmitz, Lauren Madronich, Jacob Mulder, Mark Pecha, Dominique Giesler, Laura Crossey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The Sauk transgression was one of the most dramatic global marine transgressions in Earth history. It is recorded by deposition of predominantly Cambrian non-marine to shallow marine sheet sandstones unconformably above basement rocks far into the interiors of many continents. Here we use dating of detrital zircons sampled from above and below the Great Unconformity in the Grand Canyon region to bracket the timing of the Sauk transgression at this classic location. We find that the Sixtymile Formation, long considered a Precambrian unit beneath the Great Unconformity, has maximum depositional ages that get younger up-section from 527 to 509 million years old. The unit contains angular unconformities and soft-sediment deformation that record a previously unknown period of intracratonic faulting and epeirogeny spanning four Cambrian stages. The overlying Tapeats Sandstone has youngest detrital zircon ages of 505 to 501 million years old. When linked to calibrated trilobite zone ages of greater than 500 million years old, these age constraints show that the marine transgression across a greater than 300-km-wide cratonic region took place during an interval 505 to 500 million years ago - more recently and more rapidly than previously thought. We redefine this onlap as the main Sauk transgression in the region. Mechanisms for this rapid flooding of the continent include thermal subsidence following the final breakup of Rodinia, combined with abrupt global eustatic changes driven by climate and/or mantle buoyancy modifications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)438-443
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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