Structural Analysis and Chronologic Constraints on Progressive Deformation within the Rincon Mountains, Arizona: Implications for Development of Metamorphic Core Complexes

George H. Davis, Eytan Bos Orent, Christopher Clinkscales, Felipe R. Ferroni, George E. Gehrels, Sarah W.M. George, Katherine A. Guns, Catherine E. Hanagan, Amanda Hughes, Alexander Iriondo, Gilby Jepson, Clay Kelty, Robert W. Krantz, Brandon M. Levenstein, Steve H. Lingrey, Daniel P. Miggins, Timothy Moore, Samantha E. Portnoy, Lauren J. Reeher, Jordan W. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Investigation of exhumed and well-exposed crustal-scale fault zones provides a rare window into the mechanics and timing of a broad range of deformation mechanisms, strain localization, and fault zone behavior. Here, we apply and integrate geo- and thermochronology analytics to carefully described brittle-ductile structural characteristics of the Catalina detachment zone as exposed in the Rincon Mountains domain of the Catalina-Rincon metamorphic core complex. This core complex is an exhumed extensional, broad-scale-normal-slip shear zone near Tucson, Arizona, USA. The Catalina detachment zone, as formulated here, is partitioned into a brittle-ductile fault-rock stratigraphy that evolved through progressive deformation. The Catalina-Rincon Mountains metamorphic core complex is one of the original type localities of Cordilleran metamorphic core complexes in western North America and has a long history of scientific study to document its structural characteristics and decipher its evolution in the context of Mid-Cenozoic extension. In this Memoir, we seek to provide a thorough accounting of the evolution of this shear zone, through integrating and synthesizing decades of previous research with new mapping, structural data, and geochronological analyses. The Catalina detachment zone stratigraphy is made up of the Catalina detachment fault, cataclasite, chloritic protocataclasite (referred to in most core-complex literature as “chlorite breccia”), subdetachment faults, and mylonites. When it was active, this zone accommodated a minimum of ~36 km of top-to-the-SW displacement. Characterizing the progressive evolution of this metamorphic core complex fault-rock stratigraphy requires a detailed accounting of the kinematic and temporal history of the detachment zone. Consequently, we first characterize and describe each structural unit and feature of this crustal-scale fault and shear zone network through the combination of previously published mapping, structural and microfabric analyses and newly collected structural data, thin-section analysis, large-scale mapping, and reinterpretation of stratigraphic and structural relations in the adjacent Tucson Basin. To improve our broad-scale mapping efforts, we employ multispectral analysis, successfully delineating specific fault-rock stratigraphic units at the core-complex scale. We then establish kinematic and absolute timing constraints by integrating results from well-log and seismic reflection data and with new and previously published zircon U-Pb, 40Ar/39Ar, 40K/40Ar geochronological, (U/Th)/He, 4He/3He, and apatite fission track thermochronological analyses. These temporal constraints indicate a deformation sequence that progressed through mylonitization, cataclasis, minidetachment faulting, subdetachment faulting, and detachment faulting. This multidisciplinary investigation reveals that mylonitization occurred in late Oligocene time (ca. 26–22 Ma), coeval with rapid exhumation of the lower plate, and that slip on the Catalina detachment fault ceased by early Miocene, ca. 17 Ma. This temporal framework is consistent with results of our subsurface analysis of stratigraphic and structural relations in the Tucson Basin. Onset of metamorphic core complex deformation in southern Arizona slightly preceded that in central and western Arizona and southeasternmost California. Our compiled data sets suggest a shear-zone evolution model that places special emphasis on the transformation of mylonite to chloritic protocataclasite, and strain localization onto subdetachment, minidetachment, and detachment faults over time. Our model envisions mylonites drawn upward through a fluids-sourced brittle-ductile transition zone marked by elevated fluid pressures. This emphasis draws upon seminal work by Jane Selverstone and Gary Axen in analyzing structural-mechanical evolution in the Whipple Mountains metamorphic core complex. Progressive embrittlement and strength-hardening of the lower-plate rocks are manifest in intensive fracturing and minidetachment faulting, favored by the change in rheology produced by alteration-mineral products. Subdetachment faults, localized by earlier-formed ultramylonite and calc-silicate tectonite, coalesce to produce a proto-detachment fault, which marks the interface between mylonite and chlorite protocataclasite. Linking and smoothing of minidetachment faults within chloritic protocataclasite led to emergence of the Catalina detachment fault proper. All of this, from mylonite formation to final slippage on the detachment fault, kinematically conforms to top-to-the-SW shear. The macro-form of the antiformal-synformal corrugations of the Rincon Mountains began developing while mylonites were forming, continuing to amplify during proto-detachment faulting and detachment faulting. We emphasize and describe with examples how the timing and tectonic significance of mylonitization, cataclasis, and detachment faulting within the Catalina-Rincon metamorphic core complex continues to be hotly debated. Disagreements center today, as they have in the past, on the degree to which the structures and fabrics in the Rincons are Laramide products, mid-Cenozoic products, or some combination of both. In addressing tectonic heritage with respect to the Catalina detachment zone, it is hoped that the proposed model of progressive evolution of the Catalina detachment-zone shear zone will inform other studies of active and ancient metamorphic core complexes around the globe. In this regard, some new transferable emphases and methodologies emerged from this work, above and beyond what are now standard operating procedures for understanding crustal shear zones in general, and metamorphic core complexes particularly. For example, remote multispectral image analysis combined with ground-truth field analysis permitted mapping the full extent of chloritic protocataclasite, one of the best exposures of same globally, which is perhaps the most strategic fault rock in exploring the brittle-ductile transition. The added value of complete map control for chloritic protocataclasite is exploring, at its base in other metamorphic core complexes, for the presence of subdetachment faulting, i.e., proto-detachment faulting that influenced localization of detachment zones proper. Another example is the importance of continuously searching for certain mylonite protolith that yields opportunities for closely constraining timing of mylonitization. In our case, it is the Loma Alta mylonite that, more than any other protolith unit in the Rincon Mountains, permitted ‘locking’ the age of mylonitization as late Oligocene. We hope that insights from this detailed study will inform analyses of similar crustal-scale fault zones, both ancient and modern. Given its ready accessibility compared to most metamorphic core complexes, the Rincon Mountains present opportunities for others to use this contribution as part of the basis for exploiting this natural laboratory in research, teaching, and public science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-125
Number of pages125
JournalMemoir of the Geological Society of America
StatePublished - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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