Eocene lake basins in Wyoming and Nevada record rollback of the Farallon flat-slab beneath western North America

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Michael Elliot Smith1, Elizabeth J. Cassel2, Brian R Jicha3, Bradley S Singer3 and Alan Carroll3, (1)Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, United States, (2)University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, United States, (3)University of Wisconsin Madison, Madison, WI, United States
Numerical and conceptual models of flat-slab rollback predict broad initial dynamic subsidence above the slab hinge then uplift and volcanism triggered by the advection of asthenosphere beneath the overriding plate. These predicted surface effects provide a viable but largely untested explanation for lake basin formation in Cordilleran-type orogenies. We argue that the hydrologic closure of both the foreland (early Eocene) and hinterland (late Eocene) of the North American Cordillera were caused by a trenchward-migrating wave of dynamic and thermal topography resulting from progressive removal of the Farallon flat-slab.

Two major episodes of hydrologic drainage closure are recorded by Eocene terrestrial strata in the western United States. The first occurred in the retroarc foreland during the early Eocene, and resulted in the deposition of the Green River Fm. The second occurred in the hinterland during the late Eocene and resulted in accumulation of the Elko Fm. In both regions, lake strata overlie fluvial strata and become progressively more evaporative up-section, and are overlain by volcaniclastic strata. Both successions were then truncated by regional unconformities that extend until the Oligocene. We interpret these stratigraphic successions to record trenchward propagation of a regional topographic wave, caused by slab rollback. Migration of the slab-hinge initially caused dynamic subsidence and initiation of lacustrine deposition. Regional surface uplift followed, and was associated with scattered volcanism. Uplift promoted formation of endorheic basins and ultimately the development of regional unconformities. The height of the uplift can be roughly approximated by the preserved thickness of lacustrine and other nonmarine deposits at both locations (0.2-1.0 km).

The 40Ar/39Ar and U-Pb geochronology of Green River Fm ash beds indicate that this surface topographic wave migrated trenchward (SW) across the foreland from 53 to 47 Ma at a velocity of ~6 cm/yr. Single crystal sanidine 40Ar/39Ar ages for ash beds within the Elko Fm indicate hydrologic ponding from 43 to 38 Ma. The 4 myr gap between Green River and Elko Fm deposition may represent the time required for the rollback wave to transit the steep eastern slope of the Sevier fold-thrust belt.