George Davis | The Folding of Granite in Sierras Pampeanas

Evidence and Mechanisms for Folding of Granite, Sierra de Hualfíin Basement-Cored Uplift, Northwest Argentina

Sierra de Hualfín is a 22-km (14-mi)-long basement-cored uplift with an approximately 66-km2 (26-mi2) exposure of the basement-cover interface.   The uplift is composed of Ordovician granite, overlain by and locally thrust over Tertiary sedimentary rocks.  The geometry of the uplift is that of a faulted anticlinorium in granite basement that is delineated by the basement unconformity.  Detailed mapping of the basement unconformity documents large-scale folding of granite basement, the results of fault-propagation folding associated with a thrust-fault tip initially located deep in the basement.

Our findings at Sierra de Hualfín indicate that homogeneous granite can fold as a deformable body by stress-induced development and/or exploitation of joints, faults, and fractures, and an unconformity-parallel fracture foliation in the uppermost basement.  Specifically, folding is achieved through systematic coordinated movements involving (1) reactivation of joints as faults and mode I fissures, (2) fracturing and faulting near large displacement faults, and (3) flexural shear of the uppermost basement.  The extent to which joints, microfractures, and fracture foliation are reactivated determines the deformability of granite.  At Sierra de Hualfín, the deformability of granite is such that the folding of the basement is consistent with trishear kinematics.

Our observations contradict standard models of basement-cored uplifts that assume that the fault tip is located at the basement-cover interface.  We postulate that the folded shape of Sierra de Hualfín and of some uplifts in the Rocky Mountain foreland can be attributed to basement distortion taking place in advance of a propagating fault tip below the basement-cover unconformity.

[García, P.E. and Davis, G.H., 2004, Evidence and mechanism for folding of granite, in Sierra de Haulfin basement-cored uplift, northwest Argentina:  American Association of Petroleum Geologists, v. 88, no. 9, p. 1255-1276.]