New mapping, structural analysis, and 40Ar/39Ar dating reveal an unusually well‐constrained history of Late Eocene extension in the Copper Mountains of the northern Basin and Range province. In this area, the northeast‐trending Copper Creek normal fault juxtaposes a distinctive sequence of metacarbonate and granitoid rocks against a footwall of Upper Precambrian to Lower Cambrian quartzite and phyllite. Correlation of the hanging wall with footwall rocks to the northwest provides an approximate piercing point that requires 8–12 km displacement in an ESE direction. This displaced fault slice is itself bounded above by another normal fault (the Meadow Fork Fault), which brings down a hanging wall of dacitic to rhyolitic tuff that grades conformably upward into conglomerate. These relationships record the formation of a fault‐bounded basin between 41.3 and 37.4 Ma. The results are consistent with a regional pattern in which volcanism and extension swept southward from British Columbia to southern Nevada from Early Eocene to Late Oligocene time. Because the southward sweep of volcanism is thought to track the steepening and foundering of the downgoing oceanic plate, these results suggest that the crucial mechanisms for the onset of regional extension were probably changes in plate boundary conditions coupled with convective removal of mantle lithosphere and associated regional magmatism and lithospheric weakening. Paleobotanical data indicate that surface elevations in northeastern Nevada were not significantly different than at present, suggesting that gravitational instability of overthickened continental crust was not the dominant force driving the onset of crustal thinning in mid‐Tertiary time.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/allen_mcgrew/9/