Transitional tectonics : early Laramide strike-slip deformation of the Northeastern Front Range, Colorado

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Date

2012-05

Authors

Wharton, Goodwin Christopher

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Abstract

The early Laramide tectonic history and Proterozoic metamorphic history of the northeastern Colorado Front Range were examined using kinematic data from minor faults at 25 locations, and U-Th/He dating of apatite from 2 samples (3 unsuccessful) supported by optical petrography, X-ray maps and geothermometry.

The role of strike-slip faulting in Laramide uplift of the eastern flank of the northern Front Range was analyzed through kinematic analysis of 97 minor (<100 m trace) faults. The dominant fault population was oriented approximately perpendicular to bedding, with lineations sub-parallel to bedding. Rotating bedding to horizontal showed these faults to have the pattern of a strike-slip conjugate set.

Unfolded left-lateral faults have an average orientation of (287, 87N) with lineations to (287, 01); right-lateral faults have an orientation of (065, 88S) with lineations to (245, 00). The timing of motion on these faults postdates 98 Ma deposition of Dakota group sandstones, and predates the folds that rotated them (68 Ma from the age of synorogenic conglomerates). The conclusion is that strike-slip motion was active during the earliest Laramide.

The principal strain axes from these faults, after rotation, give an average shortening axis orientation of (276, 03) and an average extension direction of (006, 02). The calculated shortening axis orientation is consistent with that of later Laramide deformation, supporting the hypothesis that strike-slip deformation occurred in the northeast Front Range during the earliest Laramide.

Analysis of minor faults on part of the eastern flank of the northern Front Range shows that strike-slip faulting was a locally important deformation mechanism at the onset of the Laramide orogeny. Principal strain axis analysis suggests that the regional tectonic regime was one of east-west shortening and north-south extension prior to the onset of the main phase of Laramide deformation, at which time the regional strain field rotated to one of east-west shortening and vertical extension. Twenty-seven thin-sections of Big Thompson Canyon metapelites were petrologically characterized prior to selection for mineral separation and U-Th/He analysis of apatite. All samples show late high-temperature static recrystallization that has partially recovered prior fabrics. At high grades, sillimanite porphyroblasts overgrow all fabrics. X-ray maps and geothermometry were also conducted to enhance the characterization of the sample suite. Garnet-biotite phase equilibria indicate that initial prograde metamorphism took place at approximately 550 °C. Apatites separated from five of the twenty-seven samples analyzed in thin section were analyzed for U-Th/He thermochronometry. Three samples returned no plausible results; one sample returned one plausible age; and one sample returned three similar and plausible ages. Basement rocks cooled through the closure temperatures for helium and fission-tracks in apatite nearly simultaneously, at about 55 Ma. These temperatures, 40 and 60 °C respectively, correspond to depths of ~ 1.5 and 2.5 km. Laramide exhumation of the Northern Front Range was very rapid. Estimates of minimum magnitude of exhumation during Laramide time may need to be increased from ~2 km to ~3 km.

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