We use U-Pb ages for 2655 individual detrital zircon grains in 30 samples of Upper Triassic (Carnian–Norian) sandstones of the southwestern USA (our data) and northern Mexico (other data) to infer regional Late Triassic provenance relations and tectonic features, which included a prerift uplift in Texas precursory to Jurassic opening of the Gulf of Mexico. Detrital zircons in sandstones from central paleorivers of the Chinle-Dockum fluvial system on the High Plains (USA) and Colorado Plateau, and from the marine terminus of the fluvial system along the eastern flank of the Auld Lang Syne backarc basin in the Great Basin, reflect regional dispersal of sediment from the Ouachita orogen and adjacent Mesoproterozoic basement exposed on the northern flank of the rift uplift. The composite grain population of Ouachita-derived sands displays dominant U-Pb age peaks at 1100–1050 Ma (Grenvillian) and subordinate Neoproterozoic (630–550 Ma) and Paleozoic (475–400 Ma) age peaks inferred to document recycling of sand grains from the Ouachita system. The Ouachita detritus was supplemented by contributions from Mesoproterozoic basement rocks of southwest Laurentia (compound 1805–1655 Ma and unitary 1440 Ma age peaks) and from Permian–Triassic arc assemblages of northeastern Mexico (composite 285–215 Ma age peak). Master Chinle-Dockum paleodrainages extended east-southeast–west-northwest for 2000 km from Texas to Nevada, flowing along the axis of a backarc trough formed by dynamic subsidence behind the Cordilleran magmatic arc, from headwaters in the Texas prerift uplift to the sediment trap of the backarc marine basin where the Auld Lang Syne Group accumulated.
Sandstones from peripheries of the linked fluvial and marine depositional systems contain contrasting populations of detrital zircons derived either from the relict Amarillo-Wichita uplift, which fed abundant Cambrian zircons derived from an uplifted aulacogen-floor igneous assemblage, to selected basal units of the fluvial system, or from the Cordilleran arc assemblage to the south and west. The youngest Dockum sample from the Ouachita foreland on the High Plains contains abundant Devonian zircons probably derived from the Ouachita metamorphic core zone now present only in the Texas subsurface. Sandstones along the southern flank of the Chinle backarc basin on the southern Colorado Plateau contain populations of detrital zircons similar to those in sandstones of the Antimonio-Barranca forearc basin (Sonora) that was farther south beyond the arc axis. Sediment transported longitudinally from the Texas uplift to the El Alamar paleoriver and Potosí subsea fan of northeastern Mexico contains populations of detrital zircons similar but not identical to those in Chinle-Dockum fluvial strata of the High Plains shed transversely from the rift uplift.
- Received 30 June 2009.
- Revision received 24 March 2010.
- Accepted 3 April 2010.
- © 2010 Geological Society of America