Numerical Modeling of an Active Salt System in Canyonlands, Utah: The Role of Topography in Driving Plastic Flow and Brittle Extension

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Katherine Kravitz, Univ of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States, Phaedra Upton, GNS Science-Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd, Lower Hutt, New Zealand and Karl J Mueller, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States
The Needles District of Canyonlands, Utah contains a coupled array of extensional faults, salt diapirs and an elongate anticline produced by gravitational stresses associated with erosion and canyon cutting along the Colorado River and its tributaries. Three-dimensional numerical models using high-resolution topography have been produced using FLAC3D to test how plastic flow of evaporites and brittle extension of overburden are coupled during deformation and how they combine to form salt structures in the region. High resolution (50 m DEM) topographic models were built of the Needles District and of the region to the southwest of the Needles containing the Imperial Valley fault. The overburden in these models was described by a strain-softening Mohr-Coulomb rheology and is 400 m thick from the surface to the base of the Colorado River canyon. It overlays a flat, 340 m thick, viscous layer representing the salt, which outcrops in the Colorado river downstream of the grabens. The Needles District is dominated by horst and graben structures which extend updip from the Colorado River to the southeast. In models of the Needles, lateral displacement is dominantly to the northwest, toward the river canyon with the most displacement occurring in regions containing side canyons. In the canyon, salt flows upward to form an anticline that follows the sinuosity of the river, and diapirs appear adjacent to side canyons or where the canyon widens, which is observed in the field and the models. Without a salt layer, models show much smaller displacement rates that vary from northwest to southeast demonstrating the importance of a flat lying salt layer in propagating deformation toward the river. The region to the southwest is an area of broader subsidence bounded by a major fault (Imperial Valley fault) with fewer developed extensional faults near the river canyon. The Imperial Valley fault model shows similar patterns in which deformation is driven perpendicular to the river canyon. However, the sinuosity of the river and side canyons cause displacement direction to shift from north to west. High resolution topographic models demonstrate the sensitivity of salt deformation to topography, influencing both flow direction and displacement rates.