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Published December 1, 2019 | Published + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Grand Canyon provenance for orthoquartzite clasts in the lower Miocene of coastal southern California


Orthoquartzite detrital source regions in the Cordilleran interior yield clast populations with distinct spectra of paleomagnetic inclinations and detrital zircon ages that can be used to trace the provenance of gravels deposited along the western margin of the Cordilleran orogen. An inventory of characteristic remnant magnetizations (CRMs) from >700 sample cores from orthoquartzite source regions defines a low-inclination population of Neoproterozoic–Paleozoic age in the Mojave Desert–Death Valley region (and in correlative strata in Sonora, Mexico) and a moderate- to high-inclination population in the 1.1 Ga Shinumo Formation in eastern Grand Canyon. Detrital zircon ages can be used to distinguish Paleoproterozoic to mid-Mesoproterozoic (1.84–1.20 Ga) clasts derived from the central Arizona highlands region from clasts derived from younger sources that contain late Mesoproterozoic zircons (1.20–1.00 Ga). Characteristic paleomagnetic magnetizations were measured in 44 densely cemented orthoquartzite clasts, sampled from lower Miocene portions of the Sespe Formation in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains and from a middle Eocene section in Simi Valley. Miocene Sespe clast inclinations define a bimodal population with modes near 15° and 45°. Eight samples from the steeper Miocene mode for which detrital zircon spectra were obtained all have spectra with peaks at 1.2, 1.4, and 1.7 Ga. One contains Paleozoic and Mesozoic peaks and is probably Jurassic. The remaining seven define a population of clasts with the distinctive combination of moderate to high inclination and a cosmopolitan age spectrum with abundant grains younger than 1.2 Ga. The moderate to high inclinations rule out a Mojave Desert–Death Valley or Sonoran region source population, and the cosmopolitan detrital zircon spectra rule out a central Arizona highlands source population. The Shinumo Formation, presently exposed only within a few hundred meters elevation of the bottom of eastern Grand Canyon, thus remains the only plausible, known source for the moderate- to high-inclination clast population. If so, then the Upper Granite Gorge of the eastern Grand Canyon had been eroded to within a few hundred meters of its current depth by early Miocene time (ca. 20 Ma). Such an unroofing event in the eastern Grand Canyon region is independently confirmed by (U-Th)/He thermochronology. Inclusion of the eastern Grand Canyon region in the Sespe drainage system is also independently supported by detrital zircon age spectra of Sespe sandstones. Collectively, these data define a mid-Tertiary, SW-flowing "Arizona River" drainage system between the rapidly eroding eastern Grand Canyon region and coastal California.

Additional Information

© 2019 The Authors. This paper is published under the terms of the CC‑BY-NC license. Received 12 December 2018; Revision received 15 May 2019; Accepted 30 July 2019. This research was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) grants EAR 10-19896 and EAR 14-51055 awarded to B. Wernicke, EAR 17-28690 awarded to J. Stock, and OPP 13-41729 awarded to J. Kirschvink. We also acknowledge NSF grant EAR 16-49254 awarded to G. Gehrels at the University of Arizona for support of the Arizona LaserChron Center. We thank Jonathan Hagstrum of the U.S. Geological Survey for providing a copy of the manuscript containing paleomagnetic data of D. Elston and S. Grommé (1994) from the Shinumo Formation. Guidance from the associate editor and reviewers R. Molina-Garza and R. V. Ingersoll substantially improved the manuscript.

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