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Title: Heterogenous late Miocene extension in the northern Walker Lane (California-Nevada, USA) demonstrates vertically decoupled crustal extension
Abstract The spatial distribution and kinematics of intracontinental deformation provide insight into the dominant mode of continental tectonics: rigid-body motion versus continuum flow. The discrete San Andreas fault defines the western North America plate boundary, but transtensional deformation is distributed hundreds of kilometers eastward across the Walker Lane–Basin and Range provinces. In particular, distributed Basin and Range extension has been encroaching westward onto the relatively stable Sierra Nevada block since the Miocene, but the timing and style of distributed deformation overprinting the stable Sierra Nevada crust remains poorly resolved. Here we bracket the timing, magnitude, and kinematics of overprinting Walker Lane and Basin and Range deformation in the Pine Nut Mountains, Nevada (USA), which are the westernmost structural and topographic expression of the Basin and Range, with new geologic mapping and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology. Structural mapping suggests that north-striking normal faults developed during the initiation of Basin and Range extension and were later reactivated as northeast-striking oblique-slip faults following the onset of Walker Lane transtensional deformation. Conformable volcanic and sedimentary rocks, with new ages spanning ca. 14.2 Ma to 6.8 Ma, were tilted 30°–36° northwest by east-dipping normal faults. This relationship demonstrates that dip-slip deformation initiated after ca. 6.8 Ma. A retrodeformed cross section across the range suggests that the range experienced 14% extension. Subsequently, Walker Lane transtension initiated, and clockwise rotation of the Carson domain may have been accommodated by northeast-striking left-slip faults. Our work better defines strain patterns at the western extent of the Basin and Range province across an approximately 150-km-long east-west transect that reveals domains of low strain (∼15%) in the Carson Range–Pine Nut Mountains and Gillis Range surrounding high-magnitude extension (∼150%–180%) in the Singatse and Wassuk Ranges. There is no evidence for irregular crustal thickness variations across this same transect—either in the Mesozoic, prior to extension, or today—which suggests that strain must be accommodated differently at decoupled crustal levels to result in smooth, homogenous crustal thickness values despite the significantly heterogeneous extensional evolution. This example across an ∼150 km transect demonstrates that the use of upper-crust extension estimates to constrain pre-extension crustal thickness, assuming pure shear as commonly done for the Mesozoic Nevadaplano orogenic plateau, may not be reliable.  more » « less
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