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Bemis, S.P., 2010

Moletrack scarps to mountains: Quaternary tectonics of the central Alaska Range

Bibliographic Reference

Bemis, S.P., 2010, Moletrack scarps to mountains: Quaternary tectonics of the central Alaska Range: University of Oregon, Eugene, Ph.D. dissertation, xvi, 121 p., (chiefly color) illust., (color) maps [2 folded maps + 1 CD-ROM (color ; 4 3/4 in.)].


Deformation across plate boundaries often occurs over broad zones with relative motions between plates typically accommodated by faults of different styles acting together in a complex system. Collision of the Yakutat microplate within the Alaskan portion of the Pacific-North America plate boundary drives deformation over 600 km away where the Denali fault divides predominantly rigid crustal block motions of southern Alaska from distributed deformation in central Alaska. Quaternary geologic mapping along the Nenana River valley and the Japan Hills of the northern foothills of the Alaska Range defines zones of Quaternary thrust faulting recorded in the progressive deformation of Pleistocene fluvial terraces. I use topographic profiles of these terraces and paleoseismic trenching of fault scarps to characterize the Quaternary activity and constrain the subsurface geometry of these faults. Radiocarbon and cosmogenic exposure dating methods provide age control on the stratigraphy in the trenches and landforms offset by these faults. These observations define a 1-1.5 mm/yr slip rate for the Gold King fault, which changes laterally from a north-vergent thrust into a north- and south-vergent thrust wedge that uplifts the Japan Hills. Along the Nenana River valley, the progressive deformation of Pleistocene surfaces defines a north-vergent critically-tapered thrust wedge. The geometry of progressive uplift and folding requires a near planar, south-dipping basal thrust fault with two major north-dipping backthrusts. All three faults were active simultaneously on a scale of 10,000 yrs with slip rates of 0.25-1 mm/yr, until the late Pleistocene when we infer the retreat of glacial ice from the main axis of the Alaska Range caused a change in thrust wedge dynamics. I use the orientation of Quaternary deformation north of the Denali fault to show that strain is highly partitioned, and establish geologic constraints on the regional horizontal stress orientation. North of the Denali fault, fault-normal principal shortening accommodates 3-5 mm/yr of strain transfer across the Denali fault system. Two appendices contain additional results of paleoseismic trenching and neotectonic investigations across four active faults near the Nenana River. This dissertation includes previously unpublished co-authored material.

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