Where did the Arizona-Plano Go? Protracted Thinning Via Upper- to Lower-Crustal Processes

Gilby Jepson, Barbara Carrapa, Sarah W.M. George, Lauren J. Reeher, Paul A. Kapp, George H. Davis, Stuart N. Thomson, Chiara Amadori, Christopher Clinkscales, Sean Jones, Andrew J.W. Gleadow, Barry P. Kohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Mesozoic-Cenozoic subduction of the Farallon slab beneath North America generated a regionally extensive orogenic plateau in the southwestern US during the latest Cretaceous, similar to the modern Central Andean Plateau. In Nevada and southern Arizona, estimates from whole-rock geochemistry suggest crustal thicknesses reached ∼60–55 km by the Late Cretaceous. Modern crustal thicknesses are ∼28 km, requiring significant Cenozoic crustal thinning. Here, we compare detailed low-temperature thermochronology from the Catalina metamorphic core complex (MCC) to whole rock Sr/Y crustal thickness estimates across southern Arizona. We identify three periods of cooling. A minor cooling phase occurred prior to ∼40 Ma with limited evidence of denudation and ∼10 km of crustal thinning. Major cooling occurred during detachment faulting and MCC formation at 26–19 Ma, corresponding to ∼8 km of denudation and ∼8 km of crustal thinning. Finally, we document a cooling phase at 17–11 Ma related to Basin and Range extension that corresponds with ∼5 km of denudation and ∼9 km of crustal thinning. During the MCC and Basin and Range extension events, the amount of denudation recorded by low-temperature thermochronology can be explained by corresponding decreases in the crustal thickness. However, the relatively limited exhumation prior to detachment faulting at ∼26 Ma recorded by thermochronology is insufficient to explain the magnitude of crustal thinning (∼10 km) observed in the whole rock crustal thickness record. Therefore, we suggest that crustal thinning of the Arizona-plano was facilitated via ductile mid- to lower-crustal flow, and limited upper-crustal extension at 50–30 Ma prior to detachment faulting and Basin and Range extension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021JB023850
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Arizona-plano
  • crustal thickness estimates
  • lower-crustal flow
  • metamorphic core complex
  • thermochronology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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