Linking deep and shallow crustal processes during regional transtension in an exhumed continental arc, North Cascades, northwestern Cordillera (USA)

Robert B. Miller, Stacia M. Gordon, Samuel Bowring, Brigid Doran, Noah McLean, Zachary Michels, Erin Shea, Donna L. Whitney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The North Cascades orogen (northwestern USA) provides an exceptional natural laboratory with which to evaluate potential temporal and kinematic links between processes operating at a wide range of crustal levels during collapse of a continental arc, and particularly the compatibility of strain between the upper and lower crust. This magmatic arc reached a crustal thickness of ≥55 km in the mid-Cretaceous. Eocene collapse of the arc during regional transtension was marked by magmatism, migmatization, ductile flow, and exhumation of deep crustal (8-12 kbar) rocks in the Cascades crystalline core coeval with subsidence and rapid deposition in nonmarine basins adjacent to the core, and intrusion of dike complexes. The Skagit Gneiss Complex is the larger of two regions of exhumed deep crust with Eocene cooling ages in the Cascades core, and it consists primarily of tonalitic orthogneiss emplaced mainly in two episodes of ca. 73-59 Ma and 50-45 Ma. Metamorphism, melt crystallization, and ductile deformation of migmatitic metapelite overlap the orthogneiss emplacement, occurring (possibly intermittently) from ca. 71 to 53 Ma; the youngest orthogneisses overlap 40Ar/39Ar biotite dates, compatible with rapid cooling. Gently to moderately dipping foliation, subhorizontal orogen-parallel (northwest-southeast) mineral lineation, sizable constrictional domains, and strong stretching parallel to lineation of hinges of mesoscopic folds in the Skagit Gneiss Complex are compatible with transtension linked to dextral-normal displacement of the Ross Lake fault zone, the northeastern boundary of the Cascades core. The other deeply exhumed domain, the 9-12 kbar Swakane Biotite Gneiss, has a broadly north-trending, gently plunging lineation and gently to moderately dipping foliation, which are associated with top-to-the-north noncoaxial shear. This gneiss is separated from overlying metamorphic rocks by a folded detachment fault. The Eocene Swauk and Chumstick basins flank the southern end of the Cascades core. In the Swauk basin, sediments were deposited in part at ca. 51 Ma, folded shortly afterward, and then covered by ca. 49 Ma Teanaway basalts and intruded by associated mafic dikes. Directly after dike intrusion, the fault-bounded Chumstick basin subsided rapidly. Extension directions from these dikes and from Eocene dikes that intruded the Cascades core are dominantly oblique to the overall trend of the orogen (275°-310° versus ~320°, respectively) and to the northwest-southeast to north-south ductile flow direction in the Skagit and Swakane rocks. This discordance implies that coeval extensional strain was decoupled between the brittle and ductile crust. Strain orientations at all depths in the Cascades core contrast with the approximately east-west extension driven by orogenic collapse in coeval metamorphic core complexes ~200 km to the east. Arc-oblique to arc-parallel flow in the Cascades core probably resulted in part from dextral shear along the plate margin and from along-strike gradients in crustal thickness and temperature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)900-924
Number of pages25
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016

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© 2016 Geological Society of America.


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