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Cenozoic basins of the Death Valley extended terrane as reflected in regional-scale gravity anomalies

April 30, 1999

The contrast in density between basin-filling deposits and underlying basement rocks in the Basin and Range province produces a distinctive pattern of gravity anomalies that roughly correlates with basin-and-range topography. This is especially apparent in the Death Valley extended terrane, where minima in residual gravity closely correspond to well-known extensional basins, such as Owens Valley, Saline Valley, Pahrump Valley, and Death Valley itself. A three-dimensional calculation of the thickness and shape of Cenozoic deposits throughout the Basin and Range based on digital gravity, geologic, and topographic information is here interpreted in terms of the depths and shapes of extensional basins in the Death Valley region. In most basins, the gravity inversion predicts a much more complex basement than might be assumed from the surface topography. Death Valley itself is, to first order, a two-dimensional feature; as reflected by the topography of the bounding ranges down to 400–800 m below the valley floor, it is a long, narrow, and continuous valley along its entire length of 200 km. This apparent uniformity, however, belies a complex basement surface beneath the Cenozoic cover as revealed by the gravity inversion. The floor of Death Valley is pockmarked with four deep (3–5 km), steep-sided depressions that may have formed as relatively small pull-apart structures superimposed on the more uniform extension that created the twodimensional aspects of Death Valley. Lateral dimensions of these subbasins suggest a minimum of 10 km of northwest extension across Death Valley. If a regionally continuous detachment surface lies beneath Death Valley, it must lie deeper than the subbasins, that is, below a depth of 3–5 km. Similar deep, steep-sided subbasins are seen elsewhere in the Death Valley extended terrane, notably at Saline Valley, Panamint Valley, Pahrump Valley, the Amargosa Desert, and Fremont Valley, but are noticeably absent from the Mojave Desert block south of the Garlock fault zone where extensional rates are lower. The floor of the caldera complex at the southwest Nevada volcanic field is predicted by the gravity inversion to be extraordinarily deep (>8 km) and rugged. Deep, linear basins that branch out of the caldera complex may reflect modification of extensional strain due to massive injections of magma into the middle and upper crust.

Publication Year 1999
Title Cenozoic basins of the Death Valley extended terrane as reflected in regional-scale gravity anomalies
DOI 10.1130/0-8137-2333-7.1
Authors Richard J. Blakely, Robert C. Jachens, James P. Calzia, Victoria Langenheim
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title GSA Special Papers
Index ID 70209839
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse