New Geology Articles Published Online Ahead of Print in January

Boulder, Colo., USA: Eleven new articles were published ahead of print for Geology in January 2021. The include new modeling, geochemical evidence of tropical cyclone impacts, transport of plastic in submarine canyons, and a porphyry copper belt along the southeast China coast. These Geology articles are online at

Episodic exhumation of the Appalachian orogen in the Catskill Mountains (New York State, USA)

Chilisa M. Shorten; Paul G. Fitzgerald

Abstract: Increasing evidence indicates the eastern North American passive margin has not remained tectonically quiescent since Jurassic continental breakup. The identification, timing, resolution, and significance of post-orogenic exhumation, notably an enigmatic Miocene event, are debated. We add insight by constraining the episodic cooling and exhumation history of the Catskill Mountains (New York, USA) utilizing apatite fission-track thermochronology and apatite (U-Th)/He data from a ~1 km vertical profile. Multi-kinetic inverse thermal modeling constrains three phases of cooling: Early Jurassic to Early Cretaceous (1–3 °C/m.y.), Early Cretaceous to early Miocene (~0.5 °C/m.y.), and since Miocene times (1–2 °C/m.y.). Previous thermochronologic studies were unable to verify late-stage cooling and/or exhumation (typically post-Miocene and younger) because late-stage cooling was commonly a spurious artifact of earlier mono-kinetic annealing algorithms. Episodic cooling phases are correlative with rifting, passive-margin development, and drainage reorganization causing landscape rejuvenation. Geomorphologic documentation of increased offshore mid-Atlantic sedimentation rates and onshore erosion support the documented accelerated Miocene cooling and exhumation.

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A new model for the optimal structural context for giant porphyry copper deposit formation

José Piquer; Pablo Sanchez-Alfaro; Pamela Pérez-Flores

Abstract: Porphyry-type deposits are the main global source of copper and molybdenum. An improved understanding of the most favorable structural settings for the emplacement of these deposits is necessary for successful exploration, particularly considering that most future discoveries will be made under cover based on conceptual target generation. A common view is that porphyry deposits are preferentially emplaced in pull-apart basins within strike-slip fault systems that favor local extension within a regional compressive to transpressive tectonic regime. However, the role of such a structural context in magma storage and evolution in the upper crust remains unclear. In this work, we propose a new model based on the integration of structural data and the geometry of magmatic-hydrothermal systems from the main Andean porphyry Cu-Mo metallogenic belts and from the active volcanic arc of southern Chile. We suggest that the magma differentiation and volatile accumulation required for the formation of a porphyry deposit is best achieved when the fault system controlling magma ascent is strongly misoriented for reactivation with respect to the prevailing stress field. When magmas and fluids are channeled by faults favorably oriented for extension (approximately normal to σ3), they form sets of parallel, subvertical dikes and veins, which are common both during the late stages of the evolution of porphyry systems and in the epithermal environment. This new model has direct implications for conceptual mineral exploration.

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A new model for the growth of normal faults developed above pre-existing structures

Emma K. Bramham; Tim J. Wright; Douglas A. Paton; David M. Hodgson

Abstract: Constraining the mechanisms of normal fault growth is essential for understanding extensional tectonics. Fault growth kinematics remain debated, mainly because the very earliest phase of deformation through recent syn-kinematic deposits is rarely documented. To understand how underlying structures influence surface faulting, we examined fault growth in a 10 ka magmatically resurfaced region of the Krafla fissure swarm, Iceland. We used a high-resolution (0.5 m) digital elevation model derived from airborne lidar to measure 775 fault profiles with lengths ranging from 0.015 to 2 km. For each fault, we measured the ratio of maximum vertical displacement to length (Dmax/L) and any nondisplaced portions of the fault. We observe that many shorter faults (<200 m) retain fissure-like features, with no vertical displacement for substantial parts of their displacement profiles. Typically, longer faults (>200 m) are vertically displaced along most of their surface length and have Dmax/L at the upper end of the global population for comparable lengths. We hypothesize that faults initiate at the surface as fissure-like fractures in resurfaced material as a result of flexural stresses caused by displacements on underlying faults. Faults then accrue vertical displacement following a constant-length model, and grow by dip and strike linkage or lengthening when they reach a bell-shaped displacement-length profile. This hybrid growth mechanism is repeated with deposition of each subsequent syn-kinematic layer, resulting in a remarkably wide distribution of Dmax/L. Our results capture a specific early period in the fault slip-deposition cycle in a volcanic setting that may be applicable to fault growth in sedimentary basins.

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Geochemical evidence of tropical cyclone controls on shallow-marine sedimentation (Pliocene, Taiwan)

Shahin E. Dashtgard; Ludvig Löwemark; Pei-Ling Wang; Romy A. Setiaji; Romain Vaucher

Abstract: Shallow-marine sediment typically contains a mix of marine and terrestrial organic material (OM). Most terrestrial OM enters the ocean through rivers, and marine OM is incorporated into the sediment through both suspension settling of marine plankton and sediment reworking by tides and waves under fair-weather conditions. River-derived terrestrial OM is delivered year-round, although sediment and OM delivery from rivers is typically highest during extreme weather events that impact river catchments. In Taiwan, tropical cyclones (TCs) are the dominant extreme weather event, and 75% of all sediment delivered to the surrounding ocean occurs during TCs. Distinguishing between sediment deposited during TCs and that redistributed by tides and waves during fair-weather conditions can be approximated using δ13Corg values and C:N ratios of OM. Lower Pliocene shallow-marine sedimentary strata in the Western Foreland Basin of Taiwan rarely exhibit physical evidence of storm-dominated deposition. Instead they comprise completely bioturbated intervals that transition upward into strata dominated by tidally generated sedimentary structures, indicating extensive sediment reworking under fair-weather conditions. However, these strata contain OM that is effectively 100% terrestrial OM in sediment that accumulated in estimated water depths <35 m. The overwhelming contribution of terrestrially sourced OM is attributed to the dominance of TCs on sedimentation, whereby ~600,000 TCs are estimated to have impacted Taiwan during accumulation of the succession. In contrast, the virtual absence of marine OM indicates that organic contributions from suspension settling of marine OM is negligible regardless of the preserved evidence of extensive reworking under fair-weather conditions. These data suggest that (1) even in the absence of physical expressions of storm deposition, TCs still completely dominate sedimentation in shallow-marine environments, and (2) the organic geochemical signal of preserved shallow-marine strata is not reflective of day-to-day depositional conditions in the environment.

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Transport and accumulation of plastic litter in submarine canyons—The role of gravity flows

Guangfa Zhong; Xiaotong Peng

Abstract: Manned submersible dives discovered plastic litter accumulations in a submarine canyon located in the northwestern South China Sea, ~150 km from the nearest coast. These plastic-dominated litter accumulations were mostly concentrated in two large scours in the steeper middle reach of the canyon. Plastic particles and fragments generally occurred on the upstreamfacing sides of large boulders and other topographic obstacles, indicating obstruction during down-valley transportation. Most of the litter accumulations were distributed in the up-valley dipping slopes downstream of the scour centers. This pattern is tentatively linked to turbidity currents, which accelerated down the steep upstream slopes of the scours and underwent a hydraulic jump toward the scour centers before decelerating on the upstream-facing flank. Associated seabed sediment consisted of clayey and sandy silts, with unimodal or bimodal grain-size distributions, which are typical for turbidites. The focused distribution of the litter accumulations is therefore linked to turbidity currents that episodically flush the canyon. Our findings provide evidence that litter dispersion in the deep sea may initially be governed by gravity flows, and that turbidity currents efficiently transfer plastic litter to the deeper ocean floor.

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Revisiting Ediacaran sulfur isotope chemostratigraphy with in situ nanoSIMS analysis of sedimentary pyrite

Wei Wang; Yongliang Hu; A. Drew Muscente; Huan Cui; Chengguo Guan ...

Abstract: Reconstructions of ancient sulfur cycling and redox conditions commonly rely on sulfur isotope measurements of sedimentary rocks and minerals. Ediacaran strata (635–541 Ma) record a large range of values in bulk sulfur isotope difference (Δ34S) between carbonate-associated sulfate (δ34SCAS) and sedimentary pyrite (δ34S py), which has been interpreted as evidence of marine sulfate reservoir size change in space and time. However, bulk δ34S py measurements could be misleading because pyrite forms under syngenetic, diagenetic, and metamorphic conditions, which differentially affect its isotope signature. Fortunately, these processes also impart recognizable changes in pyrite morphology. To tease apart the complexity of Ediacaran bulk δ34Spy measurements, we used scanning electron microscopy and nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry to probe the morphology and geochemistry of sedimentary pyrite in an Ediacaran drill core of the South China block. Pyrite occurs as both framboidal and euhedral to subhedral crystals, which show largely distinct negative and positive δ34Spy values, respectively. Bulk δ 34Spy measurements, therefore, reflect mixed signals derived from a combination of syndepositional and diagenetic processes. Whereas euhedral to subhedral crystals originated during diagenesis, the framboids likely formed in a euxinic seawater column or in shallow marine sediment. Although none of the forms of pyrite precisely record seawater chemistry, in situ framboid measurements may provide a more faithful record of the maximum isotope fractionation from seawater sulfate. Based on data from in situ measurements, the early Ediacaran ocean likely contained a larger seawater sulfate reservoir than suggested by bulk analyses.

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Recognition of a Middle–Late Jurassic arc-related porphyry copper belt along the southeast China coast: Geological characteristics and metallogenic implications

Jingwen Mao; Wei Zheng; Guiqing Xie; Bernd Lehmann; Richard Goldfarb

Abstract: Recent exploration has led to definition of a Middle–Late Jurassic copper belt with an extent of ~2000 km along the southeast China coast. The 171–153 Ma magmatic-hydrothermal copper systems consist of porphyry, skarn, and vein-style deposits. These systems developed along several northeast-trending transpressive fault zones formed at the margins of Jurassic volcanic basins, although the world-class 171 Ma Dexing porphyry copper system was controlled by a major reactivated Neoproterozoic suture zone in the South China block. The southeast China coastal porphyry belt is parallel to the northeast-trending, temporally overlapping, 165–150 Ma tin-tungsten province, which developed in the Nanling region in a back-arc transtensional setting several hundred kilometers inboard. A new geodynamic-metallogenic model linking the two parallel belts is proposed, which is similar to that characterizing the Cenozoic metallogenic evolution of the Central Andes.

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Anisovolumetric weathering in granitic saprolite controlled by climate and erosion rate

Clifford S. Riebe; Russell P. Callahan; Sarah B.-M. Granke; Bradley J. Carr; Jorden L. Hayes ...

Abstract: Erosion at Earth’s surface exposes underlying bedrock to climate-driven chemical and physical weathering, transforming it into a porous, ecosystem-sustaining substrate consisting of weathered bedrock, saprolite, and soil. Weathering in saprolite is typically quantified from bulk geochemistry assuming physical strain is negligible. However, modeling and measurements suggest that strain in saprolite may be common, and therefore anisovolumetric weathering may be widespread. To explore this possibility, we quantified the fraction of porosity produced by physical weathering, FPP, at three sites with differing climates in granitic bedrock of the Sierra Nevada, California, USA. We found that strain produces more porosity than chemical mass loss at each site, indicative of strongly anisovolumetric weathering. To expand the scope of our study, we quantified FPP using available volumetric strain and mass loss data from granitic sites spanning a broader range of climates and erosion rates. FPP in each case is ≥0.12, indicative of widespread anisovolumetric weathering. Multiple regression shows that differences in precipitation and erosion rate explain 94% of the variance in FPP and that >98% of Earth’s land surface has conditions that promote anisovolumetric weathering in granitic saprolite. Our work indicates that anisovolumetric weathering is the norm, rather than the exception, and highlights the importance of climate and erosion as drivers of subsurface physical weathering.

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“Missing links” for the long-lived Macdonald and Arago hotspots, South Pacific Ocean

L. Buff; M.G. Jackson; K. Konrad; J.G. Konter; M. Bizimis ...

Abstract: The Cook-Austral volcanic lineament extends from Macdonald Seamount (east) to Aitutaki Island (west) in the South Pacific Ocean and consists of hotspot-related volcanic islands, seamounts, and atolls. The Cook-Austral volcanic lineament has been characterized as multiple overlapping, age-progressive hotspot tracks generated by at least two mantle plumes, including the Arago and Macdonald plumes, which have fed volcano construction for ~20 m.y. The Arago and Macdonald hotspot tracks are argued to have been active for at least 70 m.y. and to extend northwest of the Cook-Austral volcanic lineament into the Cretaceous-aged Tuvalu-Gilbert and Tokelau Island chains, respectively. Large gaps in sampling exist along the predicted hotspot tracks, complicating efforts seeking to show that the Arago and Macdonald hotspots have been continuous, long-lived sources of hotspot volcanism back into the Cretaceous. We present new major- and trace-element concentrations and radiogenic isotopes for three seamounts (Moki, Malulu, Dino) and one atoll (Rose), and new clinopyroxene 40Ar/39Ar ages for Rose (24.81 ± 1.02 Ma) and Moki (44.53 ± 10.05 Ma). All volcanoes are located in the poorly sampled region between the younger Cook-Austral and the older, Cretaceous portions of the Arago and Macdonald hotspot tracks. Absolute plate motion modeling indicates that the Rose and Moki volcanoes lie on or near the reconstructed traces of the Arago and Macdonald hotspots, respectively, and the 40Ar/39Ar ages for Rose and Moki align with the predicted age progression for the Arago (Rose) and Macdonald (Moki) hotspots, thereby linking the younger Cook-Austral and older Cretaceous portions of the long-lived (>70 m.y.) Arago and Macdonald hotspot tracks.

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A detrital zircon test of large-scale terrane displacement along the Arctic margin of North America

Timothy M. Gibson; Karol Faehnrich; James F. Busch; William C. McClelland; Mark D. Schmitz ...

Abstract: Detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology is one of the most common methods used to constrain the provenance of ancient sedimentary systems. Yet, its efficacy for precisely constraining paleogeographic reconstructions is often complicated by geological, analytical, and statistical uncertainties. To test the utility of this technique for reconstructing complex, margin-parallel terrane displacements, we compiled new and previously published U-Pb detrital zircon data (n = 7924; 70 samples) from Neoproterozoic–Cambrian marine sandstone-bearing units across the Porcupine shear zone of northern Yukon and Alaska, which separates the North Slope subterrane of Arctic Alaska from northwestern Laurentia (Yukon block). Contrasting tectonic models for the North Slope subterrane indicate it originated either near its current position as an autochthonous continuation of the Yukon block or from a position adjacent to the northeastern Laurentian margin prior to >1000 km of Paleozoic–Mesozoic translation. Our statistical results demonstrate that zircon U-Pb age distributions from the North Slope subterrane are consistently distinct from the Yukon block, thereby supporting a model of continent-scale strike-slip displacement along the Arctic margin of North America. Further examination of this dataset highlights important pitfalls associated with common methodological approaches using small sample sizes and reveals challenges in relying solely on detrital zircon age spectra for testing models of terranes displaced along the same continental margin from which they originated. Nevertheless, large-n detrital zircon datasets interpreted within a robust geologic framework can be effective for evaluating translation across complex tectonic boundaries.

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Quantitative reconstruction of pore-pressure history in sedimentary basins using fluid escape pipes

Joe Cartwright; Chris Kirkham; Martino Foschi; Neil Hodgson; Karyna Rodriguez ...

Abstract: We present a novel method to reconstruct the pressure conditions responsible for the formation of fluid escape pipes in sedimentary basins. We analyzed the episodic venting of high-pressure fluids from the crests of a large anticlinal structure that formed off the coast of Lebanon in the past 1.7 m.y. In total, 21 fluid escape pipes formed at intervals of 50–100 k.y. and transected over 3 km of claystone and evaporite sealing units to reach the seabed. From fracture criteria obtained from nearby drilling, we calculated that overpressures in excess of 30 MPa were required for their formation, with pressure recharge of up to 2 MPa occurring after each pipe-forming event, resulting in a sawtooth pressure-time evolution. This pressure-time evolution is most easily explained by tectonic overpressuring due to active folding of the main source aquifer while in a confined geometry.

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GEOLOGY articles are online at Representatives of the media may obtain complimentary articles by contacting Kea Giles at the e-mail address above. Please discuss articles of interest with the authors before publishing stories on their work, and please make reference to GEOLOGY in articles published. Non-media requests for articles may be directed to GSA Sales and Service,

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For Immediate Release
28 January 2021
GSA Release No. 21-05

Kea Giles