A geologic history of the north-central Appalachians. Part 1. Orogenesis from the Mesoproterozoic through the Taconic orogeny

American Journal of Science



The north-central Appalachians lie just southwest of the boundary between the central/southern and northern Appalachians, occupying a critical position within the 3000+ km-long Appalachian orogen. The history of tectonic activity in the north-central Appalachians spans more than one billion years, from the assembly and breakup of a Neoproterozoic supercontinent, through active orogenesis during Laurentia's Paleozoic northward journey off the western margin of West Gondwana, to the Mesozoic transformation of the active orogen into a passive margin during Pangea's disassembly. The major tectonic events include five compressional orogenies and two extensional episodes: 1. The late Mesoproterozoic Grenville orogeny assembled several continental masses into the Neoproterozoic supercontinent, Rodinia. It was the most widespread but now least exposed tectonism, and rocks involved in this event underlie as basement most of the exposed north-central Appalachians. Large fragments of Laurentian Grenville rock were subsequently broken off and incorporated in later Appalachian orogenesis. 2. Crustal extension and rifting late in the Neoproterozoic and into the earliest Cambrian separated Laurentia from West Gondwana, thereby forming the intervening Theic ocean and two continental rifts on Laurentia's eastern margin, the Catoctin rift and, later in the Middle? to Late Cambrian, the so-called "Rome" trough. The initial siliciclastic sedimentation on the margin migrated westward through time onto the craton, supplanted by a thick and increasingly wide carbonate shelf on Laurentia's eastern margin. Two microcontinents of Grenville-age, non-Laurentian(?) continental rock became positioned east of Laurentia, thereby creating the Octoraro sea as an arm of Theia. 3. In Theia, east of the two microcontinents, magmatic arcs developed over a subduction zone late in the Cambrian. Convergence within Theia caused the Potomac orogeny, which obduced the arcs (Wilmington Complex, Cecil Amalgamate) over the microcontinents and associated Theic deposits (including accretionary wedge sediments). 4. Continued westward convergence collapsed the Octoraro sea, producing the Middle to Late Ordovician Taconic orogeny in which the Potomac-deformed magmatic arcs and associated Theic elements were obduced onto the Laurentian continental margin. This obduction: drowned the carbonate shelf with siliciclastic sediments (Martinsburg Formation); drove continental rise and basinal deposits over the carbonate shelf on the Martic thrust; slid the Hamburg klippe onto the shelf; and accreted the Potomac package of microcontinent/arc/basinal-sediments onto the Laurentian margin. This orogeny transformed the broad Early Paleozoic carbonate shelf into the Appalachian basin that persisted throughout the Middle and Late Paleozoic. 5. The Middle Devonian Acadian orogeny ended the largely paralic environment that dominated the Appalachian basin during the Late Silurian. Active orogenesis in New England probably extended southward to the north-central Appalachians, because a vast amount of terrigenous sediment was introduced into the Appalachian basin to form the Catskill delta; however, evidence of actual Acadian deformation and metamorphism is lacking at this latitude. These presumed internal Acadides have yet to be found. 6. The convergence of West Gondwana and Laurentia during the Late Carboniferous and earliest Permian produced the Permian Alleghany orogeny in the north-central Appalachians. This widespread decollement tectonism directly affected a larger area of the presently exposed central and southern Appalachians than any earlier Paleozoic tectonic event. An early layer-parallel shortening phase gave way to a fold-thrust development above a basal decollement. This Alleghany fold-and-thrust tectonism created long, arcuate folds in the Appalachian basin. Late in the Alleghany orogeny, rock thrust northward over the Carboniferous rocks in the Anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania caused anthracitization of the underlying coals. The internal Alleghanides are not presently exposed. 7. Crustal extension in the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic produced numerous local, closed basins along eastern North America. Igneous intrusions and effusions marked the beginning of the Jurassic. By the end of the Early Jurassic, horizontal crustal rebound in response to opening of the Atlantic Ocean rotated the basins by crustal inversion, which folded some within-basin rocks and produced a prominent topographic ridge along the Piedmont, up-dip of the basins. Subsequent erosion of this Piedmont ridge and other parts of the Appalachian orogen fed large volumes of sediment to offshore basins during the remainder of the Mesozoic and throughout the Cenozoic. Each of these orogenies affected most of the Appalachian orogen. The tectonic expression of each orogeny varied along and across the orogen. The elements and structural bodies involved in each also varied along strike. However, many common elements persist from one part of the orogen to another; only a few features are singular in time and space. The tectonic boundary between the central and northern Appalachians is one of these singular features-it is solely an Alleghanian artifact.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A geologic history of the north-central Appalachians. Part 1. Orogenesis from the Mesoproterozoic through the Taconic orogeny
Series title American Journal of Science
DOI 10.2475/ajs.297.6.551
Volume 297
Issue 6
Year Published 1997
Language English
Publisher American Journal of Science
Description 69 p.
First page 551
Last page 619
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