Two phases of deformation are needed to describe the Cenozoic tectonic evolution of the Pahrump and Mesquite basins in the southern Great Basin and eastern Mojave Desert, United States. By interpreting seismic reflection and gravity observations along with bedrock and surficial mapping, we infer an extensional phase of basin formation followed by a transtensional phase, in this area straddling the border of southern Nevada and southeastern California. We reprocessed ∼220 line km of industry seismic reflection data from the Pahrump and Mesquite Valleys to emphasize reflections in the basin fill, and combined these results with analysis of gravity data. The seismic lines portray the complex geometry of the Stateline fault system, a major Neogene dextral strike-slip system that passes through these valleys, and provide evidence for multiple ages of faulting along structures that bound the Pahrump basin. Locally thick sequences of preextensional Tertiary sedimentary rocks are cut by large-offset, relatively high-angle normal faults that record a phase of extensional basin formation that preceded transtension. The existence of preextensional basins beneath the Pahrump and Mesquite Valleys bears on tectonic reconstruction of the region and suggests that tilted ranges blocks to the west of these valleys need not restore to positions immediately adjacent to the Spring Mountains to the east. Subsequent dextral offset on the Stateline fault system resulted in the formation of steep-sided basins, local arching and tectonic inversion, and the burial of earlier-formed normal faults with coarse clastic detritus. Gravity models that are constrained to match the basin architecture observed in the seismic lines require lateral variations in basin-fill and bedrock density, and they confirm that the Paleozoic outcrop of Black Butte, a topographic high separating the Pahrump and Mesquite Valleys, is unrooted to underlying bedrock.
- Received 6 May 2009.
- Revision received 30 September 2009.
- Accepted 1 November 2009.
- © 2010 Geological Society of America