Cenozoic paleogeographic evolution of the Elko Basin and surrounding region, northeast Nevada

J. E. Lund Snee, E. L. Miller, M. Grove, J. K. Hourigan, A. Konstantinou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Geologic mapping, supported by 40Ar/39Ar and U-Pb geochronology and geochemistry of sedimentary and volcanic rocks, reveals the details of the Cenozoic depositional and tectonic history of the eastern Piñon Range and central Huntington Valley in the north-central Basin and Range Province, Nevada (USA). Cretaceous to Miocene supracrustal successions were studied in detail in order to compare the geologic evolution of the upper crust near the Ruby Mountains-East Humboldt Range (RMEH) metamorphic core complex (MCC) with the magmatic, metamorphic, and deformational history of the deep crust in the developing MCC. During the well-documented Late Cretaceous- Oligocene history of partial melting and infrastructure development within the RMEH, surface deposits in Huntington Valley reflect general tectonic quiescence, with evidence for the development of the shallow Elko Basin, minor extension, and eruption of southward-younging ignimbrite flare-up volcanism. Thin, discontinuous successions of Cretaceous- early Cenozoic sedimentary strata were locally blanketed by rhyodacite ignimbrites, domes, and subvolcanic intrusions of the Robinson Mountain volcanic field between 38.5 and 36.8 Ma. This magmatic event represents the first local expression of Cenozoic volcanism linked to the ignimbrite flare-up, and its onset occurred slightly after a renewal of partial melting in the RMEH beginning ca. 42 Ma. The volcanic section was subsequently tilted ~10°-15° west before ca. 33.9 ± 0.4 Ma. Although melting continued at depth in the RMEH until after 30 Ma, there was no eruption of volcanic rocks after Robinson Mountain volcanism. An additional ≥10°-15° of westward tilting occurred between 31.1 ± 0.3 Ma and ca. 24.4 Ma, as bracketed by the 31 Ma tuffof Hackwood Ranch (which was probably erupted from a distant caldera) and an angular unconformity beneath the overlying Miocene Humboldt Formation. Neither of these tilting events and unconformities appears to represent significant (>~1 km each) extension, but they could be surface expressions of magmatism, metamorphism, and crustal flow at depth. The Humboldt Formation includes > 2000 m of sediment deposited mostly between ca. 16 and 12 Ma, with deposition lasting until at least ca. 8.2 Ma. Humboldt Formation sediments thicken eastward, toward the west-dipping fault that bounds the RMEH, and are interpreted as a basin that developed in the hanging wall of this fault system. Motion on this normal fault system led to the exhumation of metamorphic and igneous rocks of the core complex ~10 m.y. after the documented cessation of partial melting, high-temperature metamorphism, and intrusion of granitoids into the deep crust ca. 29 Ma. Metamorphic clasts and a detrital zircon signature thought to represent RMEH provenance are first detected in 14.2 Ma or younger sediments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)464-500
Number of pages37
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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