Xenoconformities and the stratigraphic record of paleoenvironmental change

Most interpretations of the stratigraphic record are founded on the premise that the depositional environments that produced it either have not changed appreciably through time, or else have changed very slowly. Paradoxically, some of the most important transitions in the sedimentary archive are those interpreted to reflect relatively rapid, comprehensive paleoenvironmental change. Recognition of the anomalous nature of such transitions is vital to accurately understanding their significance but is not systematically incorporated in current stratigraphic models. The new term “xenoconformity” is therefore proposed, and defined as a stratigraphic surface or gradational interval that records a fundamental, abrupt, and persistent change in sedimentary facies across basinal to global scales. Xenoconformities may mark major paleoenvironmental tipping points and signal transformations in how paleoenvironmental signals were transferred into the stratigraphic record.

El Nino-Southern Oscillation-like variability in a late Miocene Caribbean coral

Reconstructions of Pliocene sea-surface temperature (SST) gradients and thermocline depths suggest that the zonal temperature gradient of the tropical Pacific was distinct from the modern. However, the nature of any El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability superimposed on this mean state is difficult to determine. We developed monthly resolved multidecadal stable isotopic time series from an extremely well preserved central Caribbean coral dating to the Miocene-Pliocene transition, prior to closure of the Central American Seaway (CAS). Paleoceanographic modeling suggests that the flow of water associated with El Niño and La Niña events through the CAS allowed Caribbean corals to record the ENSO-related SST anomalies. Spectral analysis of coral oxygen isotope ratios reveals periodicities similar to modern ENSO signatures, suggesting that ENSO-like variability characterized the Miocene-Pliocene transition.

Plateau subduction, intraslab seismicity, and the Denali (Alaska) volcanic gap

Tectonic tremors in Alaska (USA) are associated with subduction of the Yakutat plateau, but their origins are unclear due to lack of depth constraints. We have processed tremor recordings to extract low-frequency earthquakes (LFEs), and generated a set of six LFE waveform templates via iterative network matched filtering and stacking. The timing of impulsive P (compressional) wave and S (shear) wave arrivals on template waveforms places LFEs at 40–58 km depth, near the upper envelope of intraslab seismicity and immediately updip of increased levels of intraslab seismicity. S waves at near-epicentral distances display polarities consistent with shear slip on the plate boundary. We compare characteristics of LFEs, seismicity, and tectonic structures in central Alaska with those in warm subduction zones, and propose a new model for the region’s unusual intraslab seismicity and the enigmatic Denali volcanic gap (i.e., an area of no volcanism where expected). We argue that fluids in the Yakutat plate are confined to its upper crust, and that shallow subduction leads to hydromechanical conditions at the slab interface in central Alaska akin to those in warm subduction zones where similar LFEs and tremor occur. These conditions lead to fluid expulsion at shallow depths, explaining strike-parallel alignment of tremor occurrence with the Denali volcanic gap. Moreover, the lack of double seismic zone and restriction of deep intraslab seismicity to a persistent low-velocity zone are simple consequences of anhydrous conditions prevailing in the lower crust and upper mantle of the Yakutat plate.

Fluid-rock interaction is decisive for the formation of tungsten deposits

Tungsten mineralization is typically associated with reduced granitic magmas of crustal origin. While this type of magmatism is widespread, economic tungsten deposits are highly localized, with ~90% produced from only three countries worldwide. Therefore, the occurrence of reduced magmatism, while necessary for tungsten enrichment, seems to be insufficient to form such rare deposits. Here we explore the mechanisms that lead to wolframite precipitation and evaluate whether they may exert a decisive control on tungsten global distribution. Tungsten differs from other rare metals enriched in magmatic-hydrothermal ore deposits because it is transported as an anionic species. Precipitation of the main tungstate minerals scheelite, CaWO4, and wolframite, (Fe, Mn)WO4, thus depends on the availability of calcium, iron, or manganese. We demonstrate quantitatively that magmatic fluids at Panasqueira, Portugal, provide tungsten in solution, whereas the host rock contributes the iron required to precipitate wolframite. The combination of special source conditions with specific reactive host rocks explains why major wolframite deposits are rare and confined to a few ore provinces globally.

10Be dating of late Pleistocene megafloods and Cordilleran Ice Sheet retreat in the northwestern United States

During the late Pleistocene, multiple floods from drainage of glacial Lake Missoula further eroded a vast anastomosing network of bedrock channels, coulees, and cataracts, forming the Channeled Scabland of eastern Washington State (United States). However, the timing and exact pathways of these Missoula floods remain poorly constrained, thereby limiting our understanding of the evolution of this spectacular landscape. Here we report cosmogenic 10Be ages that directly date flood and glacial features important to understanding the flood history, the evolution of the Channeled Scabland, and relationships to the Cordilleran Ice Sheet (CIS). One of the largest floods occurred at 18.2 ± 1.5 ka, flowing down the northwestern Columbia River valley prior to blockage of this route by advance of the Okanogan lobe of the CIS, which dammed glacial Lake Columbia and diverted later Missoula floods to more eastern routes through the Channeled Scabland. The Okanogan and Purcell Trench lobes of the CIS began to retreat from their maximum extent at ca. 15.5 ka, likely in response to onset of surface warming of the northeastern Pacific Ocean. Upper Grand Coulee fully opened as a flood route after 15.6 ± 1.3 ka, becoming the primary path for later Missoula floods until the last ones from glacial Lake Missoula at 14.7 ± 1.2 ka. The youngest dated flood(s) (14.0 ± 1.4 ka to 14.4 ± 1.3 ka) came down the northwestern Columbia River valley and were likely from glacial Lake Columbia, indicating that the lake persisted for a few centuries after the last Missoula flood.

The onset of the Dead Sea transform based on calcite age-strain analyses

The onset and evolution of the Dead Sea transform are re-evaluated based on new in situ U-Pb dating and strain analyses of mechanically twinned calcites. Direct dating of 30 syn-faulting calcites from 10 different inactive fault strands of the transform indicates that the oceanic-to-continental plate boundary initiated between 20.8 and 18.5 Ma within an ~10-km-wide distributed deformation zone in southern Israel. Ages from the northern Dead Sea transform (17.1–12.7 Ma) suggest northward propagation and the establishment of a well-developed >500-km-long plate-bounding fault in 3 m.y. The dominant horizontal shortening direction recorded in the dated twinned calcites marks the onset of left-lateral motion along the evolving plate boundary. The observed changes in the strain field within individual fault strands cannot be simply explained by local “weakening effects” along strands of the Dead Sea transform or by gradual changes in the Euler pole through time.

Did Paleo-Tethyan anoxia kill arc magma fertility for porphyry copper formation?

The Tethyan orogen is host to numerous porphyry Cu ± Mo ± Au deposits, but the majority formed during subduction of the Neo-Tethyan ocean basin in the late Mesozoic–Cenozoic; very few deposits have been found associated with Paleo-Tethyan subduction. We propose that this sparsity is due to widespread anoxia in the Paleo-Tethyan ocean basin, leading to the generation of relatively reduced arc magmas that were infertile for porphyry Cu formation. A compilation of published geochemical data indicates that Neo-Tethyan arc rocks have higher average Cu contents and V/Sc and Sr/Y ratios compared to Paleo-Tethyan rocks, indicating higher magmatic oxidation states and greater fertility for ore formation during Neo-Tethyan subduction. Subduction of relatively reduced oceanic lithosphere, or reduction of normal moderately oxidized arc magmas by interaction with reduced lithosphere, can therefore destroy the ore-forming potential of arc magmatic suites.

Biological memory of the first Pleistocene glaciation in New Zealand

Living species retain memories of their evolutionary history in their DNA, and that evolutionary history commonly reflects distinct geological events, such as mountain building and glaciation. We synthesize previously documented genetic data for freshwater fishes and a wide range of upland insect and bird species to document the Pliocene and early Pleistocene topographic and glacial history of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Genetic data for fish suggest that a long, linear mountain chain was established in the Pliocene. At that time, the mountain chain had a tectonically constructed narrow topographic neck in the middle, with wider uplift zones at either end. Separation of populations of upland insects and birds into faunal zones at the wider ends was caused by a major glacial advance at the narrow tectonic neck at 2 ± 0.5 Ma. The composite biological memory constrains the relative timing of uplift of the Southern Alps as a linear mountain chain, with subsequent imposition of temperate glaciation during Pliocene-Pleistocene cooling in the Southern Hemisphere.

Magma sheets defined with magnetic susceptibility in the Maiden Creek sill, Henry Mountains, Utah, USA

In the ~20-m-thick Maiden Creek sill of the Henry Mountains (Utah, USA) intrusive complex, 2 magma sheets are locally separated by a 1.5-m-thick lens of sandstone. We studied the boundary between these sheets at the termination of this sandstone lens, where the upper sheet directly overlies the lower sheet, in order to test the reliability of using magnetic susceptibility in delineating internal magmatic contacts. The contact between these two sheets is along a cliff face and defined by a thin (<1 cm) brittle-ductile shear zone. Measurements of magnetic susceptibility (K) were collected within a grid every 20 cm across this contact. Drill cores (72) were also collected along four traverses across the shear zone. Mapping K across the cliff face reveals an abrupt decrease immediately below the shear zone contact. 1 m below the contact, K unexpectedly increases again to the same levels observed above the contact. This lower boundary coincides with a 1–2-mm-thick minor fracture zone. The 1-m-thick low-K zone (LKZ) is characterized by more intense microfracturing and is bleached compared to the surrounding igneous rock. Plotting the magnetic foliation from the drill cores reveals abrupt changes to the orientation across both the shear zone and fracture zone. We hypothesize that the LKZ was the original magma sheet that intruded the sandstone. The high-K zones above and below the LKZ represent later sheets that intruded above and below the original sheet, fracturing the partially or wholly crystallized original intrusion. These later sheets exsolved fluids that were injected into the original sheet, resulting in more advanced oxidation of magnetite and thus lowering the K. Alternatively, it is possible that the LKZ is simply the altered zone at the top of a thicker older sheet that was modified by the intrusion of a younger overlying sheet.

A triple S-shaped compositional profile in a Karoo dolerite sill–Evidence of concurrent multiple fractionation processes

Thick dolerite sills show a range of vertical geochemical variation trends attributable to various processes during slow crystallization. We have identified chemical parameters in a 169-m-thick sill from the Karoo igneous province in South Africa that define three different lower crossover levels (maximum or minimum concentrations) creating S-shaped variation trends. The crossover level for whole-rock MgO is at 20 m height (due to mechanical sorting of olivine); the anorthite content of plagioclase is at 52 m (due to addition of primitive magma); and that of the incompatible trace elements is at 75 m (due to different proportions of early formed grains to trapped liquid). Each process can operate independently and concurrently, leading to their maximum effects occurring at different levels in the intrusion. The independence of these processes and the triple S-shaped geochemical profiles have not been recognized before in any mafic-ultramafic sills.