Earth and Planetary Sciences ETDs

Publication Date



The Unkar Group of the Grand Canyon Supergroup is one of the best preserved remnants of Mesoproterozoic sedimentary rocks in the southwestern United States. It provides an exceptional record of intracratonic basin formation and associated tectonics kinematically compatible with protracted "Grenville-age" NW-directed shortening. New U/Pb age determinations from tephra at the base of the Unkar Group date the onset of deposition at ca. 1254 Ma. 40Ar/39Ar Kfeldspar thermochronology in Grand Canyon indicates that basement rocks cooled through 150˚ C between about 1300 and 1250 Ma, refining exhumation rates of basement rocks just prior to Unkar deposition. Abrupt thickness and facies changes in conglomerate and dolomite of the Bass Formation associated with NE-striking monoclinal flexures indicate NW-directed syn-sedimentary contraction at about 1250 Ma. A large disconformity (~75 m.y. duration) is inferred between lower and upper Unkar Group and is located below the upper Hakatai Shale as documented by detrital zircons. A second style of Unkar Group deformation involved the development of half grabens and full grabens that record NE-SW extension on NW-striking, high-angle normal faults. Several observations indicate that NW-striking normal faulting was concurrent with upper Unkar deposition, mafic magmatism, and early Nankoweap deposition: 1) Intraformational faulting in the Bass Formation, 2) Intraformational faulting in the 1.07 Ga (Rb/Sr date) Cardenas Basalt and lower Nankoweap Formation, 3) syntectonic relationships between Dox deposition and 1104 Ma (new Ar/Ar date) diabase intrusion, and 4) an angular unconformity between Unkar Group and Nankoweap strata. The two tectonic phases affecting the Unkar Group (~1250 Ma and ~1100 Ma) provide new insight into tectonics of southern Laurentia: 1) Laramide-style (monoclines) deformation in the continental interior at 1250 Ma records Grenville-age shortening; 2) 1.1 Ga detrital muscovite (Ar/Ar) and zircon (U/Pb) indicate that an Unkar Group source in the Grenville highlands during development of NW-striking extensional basins. We conclude that far-field stresses related to Grenville orogenesis (NW shortening and orthogonal NE-SW extension) dominated the sedimentary and tectonic regime of southwestern Laurentia from 1.25 to 1.1 Ga. The dominant structural grains of the Ancestral Rockies and Laramide Rockies (N-S and NW-trending) represent the reactivation of Proterozoic fault systems that formed during regional intracratonic deformation in the Mesoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic. 40Ar/39Ar K-feldspar thermochronology provides a test of this hypothesis by resolving the thermal history of different crustal blocks in the 150°-300°C temperature range. Sample traverses were made across the Ilse and Uncompahgre fault systems in southern Colorado. 40Ar/39Ar age spectrum analyses of K-feldspars across the N-S trace of the Ilse fault, Colorado, reveal significantly different age data and interpreted cooling histories. The contrasting age spectra are interpreted to record distinct thermal histories across the Ilse fault that reflect a complex reactivation history for the Ilse fault beginning in the Late Mesoproterozoic. Analyses from the Black Canyon and Unaweep Canyon areas of the Uncompahgre system show punctuated cooling 'events' at ~800 and ~600-500 Ma that we infer to record episodic exhumation. The Laramide Red Rocks and Ute Indian faults separate crustal blocks with similar Proterozoic cooling histories, but Proterozoic movement on an ancestral Uncompahgre fault may explain differences in thermal histories between the Black Canyon and Unaweep Canyon areas. Overall, the data show different cooling histories at both regional and local scales. At regional scale, samples record important cooling events that may represent periods of exhumation during 1) Grenville orogenesis (1200-1000 Ma), 2) rifting of western Laurentia (800-700 Ma), 3) rifting of eastern Laurentia (600-550 Ma Oklahoma aulocogen), and 4) Ancestral Rockies deformation (350-300 Ma). At more local scales, 40Ar/39Ar K-feldspar spectra appear to resolve disparate cooling paths across discrete faults and provide a powerful tool for evaluating whether fault segments of the Laramide network had Proterozoic ancestry.

Degree Name

Earth and Planetary Sciences

Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

First Committee Member (Chair)

Heizler, Matt

Second Committee Member

Crossey, Laurie

Third Committee Member

Smith, Gary

Fourth Committee Member

Geissman, John




Mesoproterozoic tectonism, Mesoproterozoic, Tectonic Evolution, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Intracratonic deformation, Sedimentation, Differential exhumation

Document Type