Metamorphic Core Complex


Crustal Flow Model

    When the hanging wall of a normal detachment fault is thinned, the vertical load that acts on the layers below it is reduced. This creates a horizontal pressure gradient at depth and will drive a lateral flow upward to equalize the gradient. 
It is noted that most examinations of isostasy (Spencer, 1984; Buck, 1988; Werneke and Axen, 1988) assume an upper mantle (asthenosphere) flow similar to the cartoon on the upper right of the figure (Figure after Block and Royden, 1990).  Others (Block and Royden, 1990; Gans 1987; and Thompson and McCarthy, 1986) suggest that flow of lower crustal material on the regional scale is driven by lateral pressure gradients created by the thinning of the upper crust. This results in a flat Moho like the lower right hand cartoon in the figure to the left. A flat Moho is desired in this model because a seismic reflection survey suggested a flat Moho under areas of extensive surface faulting (Hauser, er al., 1987), and on the basis of heat flow data and theoretical models of extension, Lachenbruch and Sass (1978) argued that the temperature at the base of the crust in the Basin and Range Province exceeds the temperature at which ductile flow is necessary.  As well, it is argued (Gans, 1987) that the upper crust must be decoupled from the lower crust because large amounts of new material needed to be added to the crust during stretching in order to account for the amount of extension.

Gravitational Spreading Model

Instability of an over thickened crust (figure on right, Coney and Harms, 1984) formed during the Sevier-Laramide orogenies. The crust was gravitationally unstable and spread outward under its own weight. The origin of the spreading coming from a reduction of viscosity by a mantle derived heating event (Coney, 1987), thermal relaxation of the overthickened crust (Sonder, et el., 1987), or collapse and steepening of a previously shallow-dipping Laramide Benioff zone, which may have reduced the regional stress and possibly started extension (Coney and Harms, 1984).
    The thicken crust is proposed to have spread laterally westward, away from the unmoveable Colorado Plateau. This reversed the earlier compression of the Laramide and Sevier Orogenies. 
The simple diagram to the left shows the internal forces needed to cause the gravitational spreading. A thickened crust and elevation will initiate normal faulting and spreading (Jones, Class Notes).
    The figure on the right, (Coney and Harms, 1984) shows Post-Laramide palinspastic and paleoisopach reconstruction and the crustal thickness associated with the reconstruction. The contours are crustal thickness (km). Stippled area is that of the presumed over thickened crust. They area it covers seems to coincide with the Cordillera and specifically with the metamorphic core complexes (see figure for comparison of areas).

Isostatic Uplift

Werneke and Axen (1988) "interpret the uplift as a nonelastic response of the crust to buoyancy forces accompanying the tectonic denudation of the plateau margin."

From Werneke and Axen, 1988

Magmatic Underplating or Intrusion

Magmatic Intrusion development model (Rehrig and Reynolds, 1980).

Rolling Hinge

If surface crustal thinning were to account for the amount of crustal thinning needed for extension, the should be 40-42 km thick crust under Arizona. Refraction data indicates SW-ward thinning to less than 30 km. There is a discrepancy zone where crustal thinning is not accounted for my normal crustal faulting. A Moho hinge can account for the removal of the lower crust.

Werneke 1985

0 Ma


3 Ma

Low angle normal faulting reaches deep into the crust. Shearing takes place and mylonites form.

8 Ma

Mylonites are pulled to the surface by normal faulting displacement, unroofing causes isostatic doming.

14 Ma

Subaerial denudation, and core complex emplacement.

Flexural Uplift

Three stages of flexural uplift (Holt et al, 1986, after Wallace, et al, 1986):
Seismic refraction and Gravity studies (Holt et al, 1986; Wallace, et al, 1986) show a crustal root under the Catalina-Ricon core complex.

Figure (Holt, et al., 1996) shows flexural isostasy of 24-km-wide crustal root under the Catalina Mountains. Profiles are calculated from a 2D model for distributed loads on an elastic plate isostatically supported from below. 

 The figure below (Spencer, 1984) shows a schematic diagram of warping and uplift of a detachment fault. In sequence B the antiformal warp has formed, and by C it has risen enough to denude and expose lower plate.