Geochemical Evolution of Eocene Lakes in the Nevada Hinterland of the North American Cordillera

Andrew S. Canada, Elizabeth J. Cassel, M. Elliot Smith

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1 Scopus citations


Eocene strata of the Elko Formation record lacustrine deposition within the Nevada hinterland of the North American Cordillera. We present a detailed geochemical stratigraphy enabled by high-sampling-resolution geochronology from lacus trine limestone and interbedded volcanic rocks of the Elko Formation. Two intervals of lacustrine deposition, an early Eocene “Lake Adobe” of limited aerial extent and a laterally extensive middle Eocene “Lake Elko,” are separated by ∼5 m.y. of apparent unconformity. Sediments deposited in the apparently short-lived (49.5–48.5 Ma) early Eocene Lake Adobe exhibit high-amplitude covariation of δ18O, δ13C and 87Sr/86Sr, which suggests a dynamically changing catchment and precipitation regime. Lake Elko formed during the middle Eocene, and its strata record three geochemically distinct phases, indicating it was a single interconnected water body that became increasingly evaporative over time. The lower Elko Formation (44.0–42.5 Ma) was deposited in a freshwater lake. Middle Elko Formation (42.5–41.2 Ma) lithofacies and geochemistry suggest that an increasingly saline and alkaline Lake Elko experienced salinity stratification-induced hypolimnion disoxia and burial of 12C-rich organic matter. The upper Elko Formation (41.2–40.5 Ma) records a shallow final phase of Lake Elko that experienced short residence times and a breakdown in stratification. A sharp decline of 87Sr/86Sr in the upper Elko Formation reflects an increasing aerial extent of low-87Sr/86Sr volcanic deposits from nearby calderas. Middle Eocene strata record ponding of paleodrainage, increasing hydrologic isolation and volcanism, consistent with progressive north to south removal of the Farallon flat slab and/or delamination of the lower lithospheric mantle of the North American plate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GC009863
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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