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Highly conductive horizons in the Mesoproterozoic Belt-Purcell Basin: Sulfidic early basin strata as key markers of Cordilleran shortening and Eocene extension

September 1, 2016

We investigated the crustal structure of the central Mesoproterozoic Belt Basin in northwestern Montana and northern Idaho using a crustal resistivity section derived from a transect of new short- and long-period magnetotelluric (MT) stations. Two- and three-dimensional resistivity models were generated from these data in combination with data collected previously along three parallel short-period MT profiles and from EarthScope MT stations. The models were interpreted together with coincident deep seismic-reflection data collected during the Consortium for Continental Reflection Profiling (COCORP) program. The upper-crustal portion of the resistivity model correlates well with the mapped surface geology and reveals a three-layer resistivity stratigraphy, best expressed beneath the axis of the Libby syncline. Prominent features in the resistivity models are thick conductive horizons that serve as markers in reconstructing the disrupted basin stratigraphy. The uppermost unit (up to 5 km thick), consisting of all of the Belt Supergroup above the Prichard Formation, is highly resistive (1000–10,000 Ω·m) and has relatively low seismic layer velocities. The intermediate unit (up to 7 km thick) consists of the exposed Prichard Formation and 3+ km of stratigraphy below the deepest stratigraphic exposures of the unit. The intermediate unit has low to moderate resistivity (30–200 Ω·m), relatively high seismic velocities, and high seismic reflectivity, with the latter two characteristics resulting from an abundance of thick syndepositional mafic sills. The lowest unit (5–10 km thick) is nowhere exposed but underlies the intermediate unit and has very high conductivity (4–8 Ω·m) and intermediate seismic velocities. This 17–22-km-thick three-layer stratigraphy is repeated below the Libby syncline, with a base at ~37 km depth. Seismic layer velocities indicate high mantle-like velocities below 37 km beneath the Libby syncline. The continuous high-conductivity layer in the lower repeated section is apparently displaced ~26 km to the east above a low-angle normal fault inferred to be the downdip continuation of the Eocene, east-dipping Purcell Trench detachment fault. Reversal of that and other Eocene displacements reveals a >50-km-thick crustal section at late Paleocene time. Further reversal of apparent thrust displacements of the three-layer stratigraphy along the Lewis, Pinkham, Libby, and Moyie thrusts allows construction of a restored cross section prior to the onset of Cordilleran thrusting in the Jurassic. A total of ~220 km of Jurassic–Paleocene shortening along these faults is indicated. The enhanced conductivity within the lowest (unexposed) Belt stratigraphic unit is primarily attributed to one or more horizons of laminated metallic sulfides; graphite, though not described within the Belt Supergroup, may also contribute to the enhanced conductivity of the lowest stratigraphic unit. A narrow conductive horizon observed within the Prichard Formation in the eastern part of the transect correlates with the stratigraphic position of the world-class Sullivan sedimentary exhalative massive sulfide deposit in southern British Columbia, and it may represent a distal sulfide blanket deposit broadly dispersed across the Belt Basin. By analogy, the thick conductive sub–Prichard Formation unit may represent repeated sulfide depositional events within the early rift history of the basin, potentially driven by hydrothermal fluids released during basaltic underplating of attenuated continental crust.

Publication Year 2016
Title Highly conductive horizons in the Mesoproterozoic Belt-Purcell Basin: Sulfidic early basin strata as key markers of Cordilleran shortening and Eocene extension
DOI 10.1130/2016.2522(12)
Authors Paul A. Bedrosian, Stephen E. Box
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70209673
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center; Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center