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Integrated geophysical analysis provides an alternate interpretation of the northern margin of the North American Midcontinent Rift System, Central Lake Superior

October 26, 2020

The Midcontinent Rift System (MRS) is a 1.1 Ga sequence of voluminous basaltic eruptions and multiple intrusions followed by widespread sedimentation that extends across the Midcontinent and northern Great Lakes region of North America. Previous workers have commonly used seismic-reflection data (Great Lakes International Multidisciplinary Program on Crustal Evolution [GLIMPCE] line A) to demonstrate that the northern rift margin in central Lake Superior developed as a normal growth fault that was structurally inverted to a reverse fault during a compressional event after rifting had ended. A prominent, curvilinear aeromagnetic anomaly that extends from Isle Royale, Michigan, to Superior Shoal in central Lake Superior, Ontario (the IR-SS anomaly), is commonly presented as a manifestation of this reverse fault. We have integrated multidisciplinary geophysical analyses (seismic-reflection, seismic-refraction, aeromagnetic, and gravity), physical-property information (density, magnetic susceptibility and remanence, and compressional-wave velocity), and geologic concepts to develop an alternate interpretation of the rift margin along GLIMPCE line A, where it intersects the IR-SS anomaly. Our new model indicates that a normal fault is the dominant structure at the northern rift margin along line A, contrary to the original rift-margin paradigm, which asserts that compressional structures are the dominant features preserved today. Integral to this alternate model is a newly interpreted, prerift sedimentary basin intruded by sills in northern Lake Superior. Our alternate model of the northern rift margin has implications for interpreting the style, scale, and timing of extension, rift-related intrusion, and compression during development of the MRS.