We combine 15 new 40Ar/39Ar ages with existing age constraints of basalts to investigate the incision and denudation history of the ∼150-km-long Rio San Jose (RSJ) of west-central New Mexico (USA) over the past 4 Ma. Temporal and spatial scales of differential incision may help evaluate the relative importance of neotectonic, geomorphic and climatic forcings. The RSJ is a southeast-flowing river that orthogonally crosses the northeast-trending Jemez volcanic lineament, which is underlain by a zone of low-velocity mantle. Preserved basalt flows along the length of the river at different elevations that directly overlie river gravels are used to construct paleoprofiles of the RSJ and give insight into the differential incision history, which can test the hypothesis that epeirogenic uplift associated with the Jemez lineament influenced differential incision of the RSJ. Observations include (1) a northeast-trending graben along the central reach of the RSJ (El Malpais valley graben) which is parallel to the Jemez lineament, (2) the present-day east tilt of the originally west-flowing 3.7 Ma Mesa Lucero flow along the eastern edge of the Jemez lineament, and (3) modern profile convexities that are colocated with ca. 3 Ma paleoprofile convexities and are centered above the Jemez lineament. The arched ca. 3 Ma paleoprofile defined by the pre–Mount Taylor strath has greater convexity than younger profiles, suggesting neotectonic bowing of ∼135 m (∼50 m/Ma) in this reach over the past ∼3 Ma relative to areas off axis of the Jemez lineament, in spite of graben subsidence and aggradational fill in this reach exceeding 100 m.
Differential incision of the 184 ka Suwanee flow at the edge of the Colorado Plateau may be attributable to base-level fall in downstream reaches of the RSJ and/or headwater uplift, and more erosive climate in the past several hundred thousand years. However, these observations, when considered together, cannot be explained entirely by geomorphic or climatic forcings. Rather, they are best interpreted as resulting from surface uplift centered over the northeast-trending Jemez lineament, and our model suggests that both the faulting and broad bending may relate to mantle driven epeirogeny that caused differential river incision. Several interacting neotectonic and magmatic mechanisms may have contributed to postulated uplift. Magmatically driven geodynamic uplift forcings may include construction of the Mount Taylor stratovolcano just north of the RSJ that changed surface elevation by several kilometers at the volcanic peak itself. However, semisteady denudation and similar incision rates in other rivers in the region indicate that a regional erosional landscape was the primary driver of differential river incision over the past 5–8 Ma. Our focus on the pre–Mount Tayler RSJ paleoprofile reinforces this conclusion. Other mantle-related uplift mechanisms that may have generated mantle buoyancy include thermal buoyancy or magmatic inflation due to dike and sill networks related to the building of the Mount Taylor stratovolcano and eruption of Zuni-Bandera volcanic fields. Both could have contributed to uplift, but their relative importance is unknown. Broad epeirogenic uplift is also possible due to small-scale upper mantle convection beneath a thin elastic plate and resulting dynamic topography.
- Received 27 October 2014.
- Revision received 13 May 2015.
- Accepted 1 July 2015.
- © Geological Society of America