Cenozoic tectonic evolution of the basin and range province in northwestern Nevada

Joseph P. Colgan, Trevor A. Dumitru, Peter W. Reiners, Joseph L. Wooden, Elizabeth L. Miller

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79 Scopus citations


A regional synthesis of new and existing geologic and thermochronologic data document late Cretaceous - early Cenozoic regional erosion, Oligocene - Miocene volcanism, and subsequent late Miocene extension of the Basin and Range Province in northwestern Nevada and northeastern California. Across an ∼220-km-wide region between the Santa Rosa and Warner Ranges, conformable sequences of 35 to 15 Ma volcanic rocks are cut by only a single generation of high-angle normal faults that accommodated ∼23 km of total east-west extension (∼12%). Fission-track, (U-Th)/He, geologic, and structural data from the Pine Forest Range show that faulting there began at 11 to 12 Ma, progressed at a relatively constant rate until at least 3 Ma, and has continued until near the present time. Extension in the Santa Rosa Range to the east took place during the same interval, although the post-6 Ma part of this history is less well constrained. Less complete constraints from adjacent ranges permit a similar timing for faulting, and we infer that extensional faulting in northwestern Nevada began everywhere at 12 Ma and has continued up to the present. Faulting in the Warner Range in northeastern California can only be constrained to have begun between 14 and 3 Ma, but may represent westward migration of Basin and Range extension during the Pliocene. Compared to the many parts of the Basin and Range in central and southern Nevada, extension in northwestern Nevada began more recently, is of lesser total magnitude, and was accommodated entirely by high-angle normal faults. Fission-track data document Late Cretaceous unroofing of Cretaceous (115 - 100 Ma) granitic basement rocks in northwestern Nevada, followed by a long period of relative tectonic quiescence that persisted through Oligocene and Miocene volcanism until the onset of Basin and Range extension at ∼12 Ma. The low magnitude of extension (12%) and early Tertiary stability suggest that the modern ∼31 km thick crust in northwestern Nevada was only slightly thicker (∼35 km) prior to extension at 12 Ma, and was no thicker than ∼38 km in the Late Cretaceous. This stands in contrast to other parts of the Basin and Range, where the crust was thickened to at least 45 to 50 km by Cretaceous thrusting and subsequently thinned to ∼30 km by large magnitude (>50%) extension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)616-654
Number of pages39
JournalAmerican Journal of Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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