The Chulitna terrane is an enigmatic, fault-bounded package of mid-Paleozoic to early Mesozoic sedimentary rocks and volcanics that are exotic to North America and show no clear affinity with any of the other allochthonous terranes in southern Alaska. Geologic mapping and geochemical analyses of Triassic strata from the Chulitna terrane indicate Triassic rifting of a Devonian volcanic arc and development of an asymmetric basin that was later deformed in the Cretaceous within the broadly defined suture between the Wrangellia composite terrane and the Mesozoic margin of North America. The structure of the region consists of an overturned synclinorium that verges southeast, Triassic strata in the core of the syncline, and basement rocks exposed in the hanging walls of a series of out-of-syncline thrusts on the southeastern, upright limb. The basement of the complex consists of serpentinite, vesicular flows of basaltic andesite with minor pillow lavas, and volcanic debris with blocks of andesite and minor Devonian red chert. From southeast to northwest, there are systematic changes in the facies associated with Triassic strata that overlie this basement. To the southeast, the basement is unconformably overlain by bedded sedimentary breccias that consist of subangular clasts of basement lithologies, including red chert, serpentinite, and andesite. Further to the northwest, in the hanging wall of a more rearward thrust, the red-bed strata consist of conglomerate intermixed with siltstone and cross-bedded sandstone. In the northwest on the overturned limb of the syncline, the red beds are composed of siltstone and sandstone interfingered with limestone. There is an overall increase in the thickness of the red-bed unit from southeast to northwest. On the northwestern limb of the syncline, the red beds overlie a 1500-m-thick basalt sequence with columnar jointed flows and pillow basalts interbedded with limestone. Geochemical analyses of clinopyroxene phenocrysts in the basalts show similarities with island-arc basalts, suggesting that volcanism was related to early rifting of an oceanic arc. A marine sandstone unit overlies the entire red-bed package along a flooding surface and thins to the southeast. These results are consistent with Triassic deposition within a rifted volcanic arc, an upland erosion surface to the southeast, and increasing thickness of the Triassic section toward a basin-bounding fault in the northwest. This basin was initially ∼18 km wide prior to accretion along the Mesozoic margin of North America, which resulted in southeast-vergent folding and 30% shortening.
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