Detrital zircons indicate no drainage link between southern California rivers and the Colorado Plateau from mid-Cretaceous through Pliocene

Simplifi ed pre– 15 Ma palinspastic restoration of southern California showing sample locations. Restored fault offsets include San Andreas fault (SAF) and San Gabriel fault (SGF), and San Gregorio–Hosgri and Rinconada faults. Garlock fault (GF) and Nacimiento fault (NF) have not been restored. Also shown are hypothetical Paleogene Arizona River, Eocene shoreline and river systems

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Detrital zircons indicate no drainage link between southern California rivers and the Colorado Plateau from mid-Cretaceous through Pliocene

Raymond V. Ingersoll1, Marty Grove2, Carl E. Jacobson3, David L. Kimbrough4 and Johanna F. Hoyt1

1Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of California–Los Angeles, 595 Charles Young Dr. East, Los Angeles, California 90095-1567, USA

2Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Green Earth Sciences, Room 225, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2115, USA

3Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, 253 Science I, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011-3212, USA

4Department of Geological Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182-1020, USA

Abstract

Central to debate about the age, origin, and evolution of Grand Canyon (southwestern United States) is the history of the Colorado River and its precursors. Reversal of dextral slip along the San Andreas fault system since the early Pliocene restores southern California to the downstream end of the Colorado River. If the Colorado River flowed to the Pacific Ocean prior to 6 Ma, then its sand would have the distinctive detrital-zircon age distributions of upper Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata of the Colorado Plateau, which contain 30%–46% 300–1100 Ma zircon originally transported from orogenic belts of southeastern Laurentia. In contrast, age distributions of 6662 detrital zircons from 167 Upper Cretaceous–Pliocene sandstone samples from southern California average 44%–88% Cretaceous, with only 0.4%–1.3% 300–1100 Ma grains, most of which can be attributed to local recycling from older deposits. No individual Upper Cretaceous to Pliocene sandstone sample from southern California contains >3% 300–1100 Ma zircon. Although Paleogene headwaters of southern California rivers extended into the eastern Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert, and Mogollon Highlands, our results indicate that these headwaters did not extend as far as the Colorado Plateau. This conclusion conflicts with the hypothesis of a Paleogene southwest-flowing Arizona River, but supports late Miocene–Pliocene drainage reorganization and integration of the Colorado River coincident with development of the Salton Trough and Gulf of California.

March 2013 GeologyRV Ingersoll, M Grove, CE Jacobson, DL Kimbrough, JF Hoyt (2013), Detrital zircons indicate no drainage link between southern California rivers and the Colorado Plateau from mid-Cretaceous through Pliocene, doi: 10.1130/G33807.1 v. 41 no. 3 p. 311-314