Geochronology of fluvial deposits can be used to characterize provenance, the paleotopography of sediment source regions, and the development of regional drainage systems. We present U-Pb and (U-Th)/He ages of detrital zircon grains from Eocene gravels preserved in several paleoriver systems along the western flank of the central and northern Sierra Nevada. These ages allow us to trace the sourcing of detritus in paleorivers and to constrain the evolution of the Sierra Nevada range front. U-Pb zircon age distributions are bimodal, with a dominant peak between 110 and 95 Ma and smaller but significant peaks in the Middle to Late Jurassic, matching the predominant ages of the Sierra Nevada batholith. A small fraction (<6%) of grains has pre-Mesozoic ages, which consistently match ages from prebatholithic assemblages within the northern part of the range. (U-Th)/He ages of a subset of double-dated zircons cluster between 114 and 74 Ma and are consistent with batholithic (U-Th)/He cooling ages in the northern Sierra. Our results indicate that the Eocene river systems in the central northern Sierra Nevada likely had proximal headwaters and had relatively steep axial gradients, draining smaller areas than was commonly thought. This also suggests that the northern Sierra Nevada would have had an established drainage divide and would have acted as a major topographic barrier during the early to mid-Cenozoic. The data presented here support a model of the Eocene northern Sierra Nevada characterized by a western slope with a gradient broadly similar to that of today.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology