Unraveling the central Appalachian fold-thrust belt, Pennsylvania: The power of sequentially restored balanced cross sections for a blind fold-thrust belt

Peter B. Sak, Nadine McQuarrie, Benjamin P. Oliver, Natasha Lavdovsky, Margaret S. Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


We present a kinematic model for the sequential development of the Appalachian fold-thrust belt (eastern U.S.) across a classic transect through the Pennsylvania salient. New map and strain data are used to create a balanced geologic cross section from the southern edge of the Valley and Ridge Province to the northern Appalachian Plateau. This region of the central Appalachian foldthrust belt is an ideal location to illustrate the incorporation of strain data in balanced cross sections, because it cannot be balanced without quantifying grain-scale strain. We use a sequentially restored, balanced cross section to show how layer-parallel shortening (LPS) is distributed above and ahead of thrust and fold shortening and constrain the geometric and kinematic evolution of a passive roof duplex. By combining line length and area balancing of a kinematically viable cross section with LPS estimates in both the Valley and Ridge Province (20%) and Appalachian Plateau (13%), we document the total magnitude of shortening in both the folded cover sequence and the duplexed lower layer of the fold-thrust belt. Restoration of the cross section indicates a total of 77 km (22%) of shortening between the southern margin of the Valley and Ridge Province in central Pennsylvania and a pin line immediately north of the northern limit of documented LPS in the foreland. The 24 km (13%) of LPS on the Appalachian Plateau is interpreted as being above the Salina (salt) décollement. This magnitude of shortening is 14 km greater than the amount of displacement on the Nittany Anticlinorium, the northernmost structure of the fold-thrust belt that cuts upsection from the Cambrian Waynesboro Formation to the Silurian Salina décollement. Because the fault that cores the Nittany Anticlinorium can only facilitate 10 km of shortening on the plateau, an early history of Appalachian Plateau LPS in Silurian and younger rocks is required to balance the section. We propose that the additional 14 km of LPS on the plateau occurred early in the deformation history and was kinematically linked to two fault-bend folds that have a lower décollement in the Cambrian Waynesboro Formation and an upper, subhorizontal detachment in the Silurian Wills Creek Formation (in the Valley and Ridge) and the Salina Group on the Appalachian Plateau. This upper detachment feeds displacement from these early horses in the duplex system onto the Appalachian Plateau and is expressed there as LPS shortening. This early shortening is followed by the development of in-sequence horses that repeat the mainly thrust-faulted Cambrian-Ordovician sequence using both the main décollement in the Cambrian Waynesboro and the Ordovician Reedsville Formations as an upper detachment horizon. In the south, shortening in the Late Ordovician through Devonian layers is accommodated by both LPS and forced folding of the overlying folded cover sequence. We propose that the Reedsville Formation becomes weaker to the north, facilitating shorter wavelength detachment folds. The development of gentle open folds on the Appalachian Plateau, as well as the last 10 km of LPS on the plateau, is linked to the most forelandward horse in the duplex. This horse forms the broad Nittany Anticlinorium, the northern boundary of the Valley and Ridge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-702
Number of pages18
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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