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Geophysical insights into Paleoproterozoic tectonics along the southern margin of the Superior Province, central Upper Peninsula, Michigan, USA

April 21, 2021

The southern margin of the Archean Superior Province in the central Upper Peninsula of Michigan was a nexus for key Paleoproterozoic tectonic events involved in the ~2.1 Ga rifting of proposed Archean supercraton Superia and subsequent assembly of Laurentia. Interpretations of the region’s tectonic history have historically been hampered by extensive Pleistocene glacial and Paleozoic sedimentary cover and a lack of appropriate geophysical data. These rifting and orogenic events formed geologic effects that are readily mappable with modern geophysical methods. New aeromagnetic and gravity data provide a critical means of mapping and interpreting the complex geological framework through cover, allowing development of significantly richer geographical and process-based perspectives on all these tectonic events. Interpretations of Precambrian contacts and structure are here, for the first time, carried >30 km eastward under Paleozoic cover. Effects of ~2.1 Ga rifting are strongly expressed geophysically, including the Dickinson Group, perhaps a unique record of the progression of rift-related sedimentation and magmatism, shown here to be a geographically extensive and largely concealed tectonic feature of the southern Superior Province. The geophysical evidence for plausible ~2.1 Ga rift-related intrusive magmatism includes a previously unrecognized swarm of northeast-striking mafic dikes cutting Archean rocks and gravity lows produced by granites. Effects of the ~1.87–1.83 Ga Penokean orogeny include gravity and magnetic gradients and pattern breaks along the Niagara fault zone suture, abundant evidence for thin-skinned thrusting and folding in the Menominee iron district, and speculative emplacement of an allochthonous sedimentary sequence in the Calumet trough. Numerous east–west trending structures imaged geophysically likely originated, or were significantly reactivated by, post-Penokean deformation. Metamorphic events at ~1.76 Ga and ~1.65 Ga may correspond to orogenies involving younger, outboard Paleoproterozoic crustal provinces recognized in southern Laurentia. For example, the previously unrecognized West Branch fault, separating the Dickinson Group from Archean rocks, is shown to be a major structure in the region, and is a proposed expression of ~1.76 Ga thick-skinned deformation. Oblique disruptions of crudely east–west striking structures have robust geophysical expressions and are speculatively connected to transpressive deformation at ~1.65 Ga. These new geophysical observations and interpretations collectively help illuminate a critical period in the tectonic evolution of Laurentia, as it transitioned from a disparate array of Archean cratons to a more coherent, growing continent.