skip to main content

Title: The Aspen Paleoriver: Linking Eocene Magmatism to the World’s Largest Na-Carbonate Evaporite
Trona, nahcolite, and other Na-carbonate evaporite minerals in lakes are often closely associated with active volcanism, suggesting that the excess alkalinity required for their formation may arise from fluid-rock interactions involving hydrothermal waters that contain magmatic CO2. Paradoxically, the world’s largest Na-carbonate occurrence, contained within the Eocene Green River Formation in Wyoming, was not associated with nearby active magmatism. Magmatism was active ~200 km southeast in the Colorado Mineral Belt however, suggesting that a river draining this area could have supplied excess alkalinity to Eocene lakes. Sedimentologic studies in southwestern Wyoming, along the course of the hypothesized Aspen paleoriver, document fluvial and deltaic sandstone with generally northwest-directed paleocurrent indicators. Sandstone framework grain compositions and detrital zircon ages are consistent with derivation from the Colorado Mineral Belt and its host rocks. These results provide the first confirmation of a fluvial connection to downstream Eocene lakes, and indicate that lake deposits may offer a unique perspective on upstream magmatic and hydrothermal histories.
Authors:
Award ID(s):
1813278
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10187887
Journal Name:
Geology
Volume:
47
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
1020-1024
ISSN:
0091-7613
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Deposition of trona, nahcolite, and other Na-carbonate evaporite minerals in lakes is commonly closely associated with active volcanism, suggesting that the excess alkalinity required for their formation may arise from fluid-rock interactions involving hydrothermal waters that contain magmatic CO2. Paradoxically, the world's largest Na-carbonate occurrence, contained within the Eocene Green River Formation in Wyoming, USA, was not associated with nearby active magmatism. Magmatism was active ∼200 km southeast in the Colorado Mineral Belt, however, suggesting that a river draining this area could have supplied excess alkalinity to Eocene lakes. Sedimentologic studies in southwestern Wyoming, along the course of the hypothesized Aspen paleoriver, document fluvial and deltaic sandstone with generally northwest-directed paleocurrent indicators. Sandstone framework grain compositions and detrital zircon ages are consistent with derivation from the Colorado Mineral Belt and its host rocks. These results provide the first confirmation of a fluvial connection to downstream Eocene lakes, and indicate that lake deposits may offer a unique perspective on upstream magmatic and hydrothermal histories.
  2. As atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and temperatures increase with modern climate change, ancient hothouse periods become a focal point for understanding ecosystem function under similar conditions. The early Eocene exhibited high temperatures, high CO2 levels, and similar tectonic plate configuration as today, so it has been invoked as an analog to modern climate change. During the early Eocene, the greater Green River Basin (GGRB) of southwestern Wyoming was covered by an ancient hypersaline lake (Lake Gosiute; Green River Formation) and associated fluvial and floodplain systems (Wasatch and Bridger formations). The volcaniclastic Bridger Formation was deposited by an inland delta that drained from the northwest into freshwater Lake Gosiute and is known for its vast paleontological assemblages. Using this well-preserved basin deposited during a period of tectonic and paleoclimatic interest, we employ multiple proxies to study trends in provenance, parent material, weathering, and climate throughout 1 million years. The Blue Rim escarpment exposes approximately 100 m of the lower Bridger Formation, which includes plant and mammal fossils, solitary paleosol profiles, and organic remains suitable for geochemical analyses, as well as ash beds and volcaniclastic sandstone beds suitable for radioisotopic dating. New 40Ar/39Ar ages from the middle and top of the Blue Rimmore »escarpment constrain the age of its strata to ∼ 49.5–48.5 Myr ago during the “falling limb” of the early Eocene Climatic Optimum. We used several geochemical tools to study provenance and parent material in both the paleosols and the associated sediments and found no change in sediment input source despite significant variation in sedimentary facies and organic carbon burial. We also reconstructed environmental conditions, including temperature, precipitation (both from paleosols), and the isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2 from plants found in the floral assemblages. Results from paleosol-based reconstructions were compared to semi-co-temporal reconstructions made using leaf physiognomic techniques and marine proxies. The paleosol-based reconstructions (near the base of the section) of precipitation (608–1167 mm yr−1) and temperature (10.4 to 12.0 ∘C) were within error of, although lower than, those based on floral assemblages, which were stratigraphically higher in the section and represented a highly preserved event later in time. Geochemistry and detrital feldspar geochronology indicate a consistent provenance for Blue Rim sediments, sourcing predominantly from the Idaho paleoriver, which drained the active Challis volcanic field. Thus, because there was neither significant climatic change nor significant provenance change, variation in sedimentary facies and organic carbon burial likely reflected localized geomorphic controls and the relative height of the water table. The ecosystem can be characterized as a wet, subtropical-like forest (i.e., paratropical) throughout the interval based upon the floral humidity province and Holdridge life zone schemes. Given the mid-paleolatitude position of the Blue Rim escarpment, those results are consistent with marine proxies that indicate that globally warm climatic conditions continued beyond the peak warm conditions of the early Eocene Climatic Optimum. The reconstructed atmospheric δ13C value (−5.3 ‰ to −5.8 ‰) closely matches the independently reconstructed value from marine microfossils (−5.4 ‰), which provides confidence in this reconstruction. Likewise, the isotopic composition reconstructed matches the mantle most closely (−5.4 ‰), agreeing with other postulations that warming was maintained by volcanic outgassing rather than a much more isotopically depleted source, such as methane hydrates.« less
  3. The Alaska Range suture zone exposes Cretaceous to Quaternary marine and nonmarine sedimentary and volcanic rocks sandwiched between oceanic rocks of the accreted Wrangellia composite terrane to the south and older continental terranes to the north. New U-Pb zircon ages, 40Ar/39Ar, ZHe, and AFT cooling ages, geochemical compositions, and geological field observations from these rocks provide improved constraints on the timing of Cretaceous to Miocene magmatism, sedimentation, and deformation within the collisional suture zone. Our results bear on the unclear displacement history of the seismically active Denali fault, which bisects the suture zone. Newly identified tuffs north of the Denali fault in sedimentary strata of the Cantwell Formation yield ca. 72 to ca. 68 Ma U-Pb zircon ages. Lavas sampled south of the Denali fault yield ca. 69 Ma 40Ar/39Ar ages and geochemical compositions typical of arc assemblages, ranging from basalt-andesite-trachyte, relatively high-K, and high concentrations of incompatible elements attributed to slab contribution (e.g., high Cs, Ba, and Th). The Late Cretaceous lavas and bentonites, together with regionally extensive coeval calc-alkaline plutons, record arc magmatism during contractional deformation and metamorphism within the suture zone. Latest Cretaceous volcanic and sedimentary strata are locally overlain by Eocene Teklanika Formation volcanic rocks withmore »geochemical compositions transitional between arc and intraplate affinity. New detrital-zircon data from the modern Teklanika River indicate peak Teklanika volcanism at ca. 57 Ma, which is also reflected in zircon Pb loss in Cantwell Formation bentonites. Teklanika Formation volcanism may reflect hypothesized slab break-off and a Paleocene–Eocene period of a transform margin configuration. Mafic dike swarms were emplaced along the Denali fault from ca. 38 to ca. 25 Ma based on new 40Ar/39Ar ages. Diking along the Denali fault may have been localized by strike-slip extension following a change in direction of the subducting oceanic plate beneath southern Alaska from N-NE to NW at ca. 46–40 Ma. Diking represents the last recorded episode of significant magmatism in the central and eastern Alaska Range, including along the Denali fault. Two tectonic models may explain emplacement of more primitive and less extensive Eocene–Oligocene magmas: delamination of the Late Cretaceous–Paleocene arc root and/or thickened suture zone lithosphere, or a slab window created during possible Paleocene slab break-off. Fluvial strata exposed just south of the Denali fault in the central Alaska Range record synorogenic sedimentation coeval with diking and inferred strike-slip displacement. Deposition occurred ca. 29 Ma based on palynomorphs and the youngest detrital zircons. U-Pb detrital-zircon geochronology and clast compositional data indicate the fluvial strata were derived from sedimentary and igneous bedrock presently exposed within the Alaska Range, including Cretaceous sources presently exposed on the opposite (north) side of the fault. The provenance data may indicate ~150 km or more of dextral offset of the ca. 29 Ma strata from inferred sediment sources, but different amounts of slip are feasible. Together, the dike swarms and fluvial strata are interpreted to record Oligocene strike-slip movement along the Denali fault system, coeval with strike-slip basin development along other segments of the fault. Diking and sedimentation occurred just prior to the onset of rapid and persistent exhumation ca. 25 Ma across the Alaska Range. This phase of reactivation of the suture zone is interpreted to reflect the translation along and convergence of southern Alaska across the Denali fault driven by highly coupled flat-slab subduction of the Yakutat microplate, which continues to accrete to the southern margin of Alaska. Furthermore, a change in Pacific plate direction and velocity at ca. 25 Ma created a more convergent regime along the apex of the Denali fault curve, likely contributing to the shutting off of near-fault extension- facilitated arc magmatism along this section of the fault system and increased exhumation rates.« less
  4. Rare earth element (REE) deposits are commonly associated with carbonatites and (per)alkaline rocks where hydrothermal magmatic fluids can play a significant role in REE mobilization and deposition [1]. Thermodynamic modeling permits predicting the evolution of ore-forming fluids and can be used to test different controls on hydrothermal REE mobility including temperature, pressure, the solubility of REE minerals, aqueous REE speciation and pH evolution associated with fluid-rock interaction. Previous modeling studies either focused on REE fluoride/chloride complexation in acidic aqueous fluids [2] or near neutral/alkaline fluids associated with calcite vein formation [3]. Such models were also applied to interpret field observations in REE deposits Bayan Obo in China and Bear Lodge in Wyoming [3,4]. Recent hydrothermal calcite-fluid REE partitioning experiments provide new data to simulate the solubility of REE in calcite, REE carbonates/fluorocarbonates at high temperatures [5, 6]. We studied the competing effects controlling the mobility of REE in hydrothermal fluids between 100 and 400 °C at 500 bar. Speciation calculations were carried out in the Ca-F-CO2-Na-Cl-H2O system using the GEMS code package [7]. The properties of minerals and aqueous species were taken from the MINES thermodynamic database [3,5]. The Gallinas Mountains hydrothermal REE deposit in New Mexico was used asmore »a field analogue to compare our models with the formation of calcite-fluorite veins hosting bastnäsite. Previous fluid inclusion studies hypothesized that the REE were transported as fluoride complexes [8] but more recent modeling studies have shown that fluoride essentially acts as a depositing ligand [2]. Here we show more detailed simulations predicting the stability of fluorite, calcite and REE minerals relevant to ore-forming processes in carbonatites and alkaline systems. [1] Gysi et al. (2016), Econ. Geol. 111, 1241-1276; [2] Migdisov and Williams-Jones (2014), Mineral. Deposita 49, 987-997. [3] Perry and Gysi (2018), Geofluids; [4] Liu et al. (2020), Minerals 10, 495; [5] Perry and Gysi (2020), Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 286, 177-197; [6] Gysi and Williams-Jones (2015) Chem. Geol. 392, 87-101;[7] Kulik et al. (2013), Computat. Geosci. 17, 1-24; [8] Williams-Jones et al. (2000), Econ. Geol. 95, 327-341« less
  5. Abstract The southern Coast Mountain batholith was episodically active from Jurassic to Eocene time and experienced four distinct high magmatic flux events during that period. Similar episodicity has been recognized in arcs worldwide, yet the mechanism(s) driving such punctuated magmatic behavior are debated. This study uses zircon Hf and O isotopes, with whole-rock and mineral geochemistry, to track spatiotemporal changes in southern Coast Mountains batholith melt sources and to evaluate models of flare-up behavior and crust formation in Cordilleran arc systems. Zircon Hf isotope analysis yielded consistently primitive values, with all zircon grains recording initial εHf between +6 and +16. The majority (97%) of zircons analyzed yielded δ18O values between 4.2‰ and 6.5‰, and only five grains recorded values of up to 8.3‰. These isotopic results are interpreted to reflect magmatism dominated by mantle melting during all time periods and across all areas of the southern batholith, which argues against the periodic input of more melt-fertile crustal materials as the driver of episodic arc magmatism. They also indicate that limited crustal recycling is needed to produce the large volumes of continental crust generated in the batholith. Although the isotopic character of intrusions is relatively invariant through time, magmas emplaced duringmore »flare-ups record higher Sr/Y and La/Yb(N) and lower zircon Ti and Yb concentrations, which is consistent with melting in thickened crust with garnet present as a fractionating phase. Flare-ups are also temporally associated with periods when the southern Coast Mountains batholith both widens and advances inboard. We suggest that the landward shift of the arc into more fertile lithospheric mantle domains triggers voluminous magmatism and is accompanied by magmatic and/or tectonic thickening. Overall, these results demonstrate that the magmatic growth of Cordilleran arcs can be spatially and temporally complex without requiring variability in the contributions of crust and/or mantle to the batholith.« less