Date of Award

Spring 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

First Advisor

Kenneth D. Ridgway

Committee Member 1

Christopher L. Andronicos

Committee Member 2

Jeffrey M. Trop


Foreland and forearc basins are large sediment repositories that form in response to tectonic loading and lithospheric flexure during orogenesis along convergent plate boundaries. In addition to their numerous valuable natural resources, these systems preserve important geologic information regarding the timing and intensity of deformation, uplift and erosion history, and subsidence history along collisional margins, and, in ancient systems, may provide more macroscopic information regarding climate, plate motion, and eustatic sea level fluctuations. This thesis presents two studies focused in the Paleozoic Appalachian foreland basin system along the eastern United States and in the Mesozoic to Cenozoic Matanuska forearc basin system in south-central Alaska.

Strata of the Appalachian foreland basin system preserve the dynamic history of orogenesis and sediment dispersal along the east Laurentian margin, recording multiple episodes of deformation and basin development during Paleozoic time. A well-exposed, >600 m thick measured stratigraphic section of the Pine Mountain thrust sheet at Pound Gap, Kentucky affords one of the most complete exposures of Upper Devonian through Middle Pennsylvanian strata in the basin. These strata provide a window into which the foreland basin's development during two major collisional events known as the Acadian-Neoacadian and the Alleghanian orogenies can be observed. Lithofacies analysis of four major sedimentary successions observed in hanging wall strata record the upward transition from (1) a submarine deltaic fan complex developed on a distal to proximal prodelta in Late Devonian to Middle Mississippian time, to (2) a Middle to Late Mississippian carbonate bank system developed on a slowly subsiding, distal foreland ramp, which was drowned by (3) Late Mississippian renewed clastic influx to a tidally influenced, coastal deltaic complex to fluvial delta plain system unconformably overlain by (4) a fluvial braided river complex. Four samples of Lower Mississippian to Middle Pennsylvanian sandstone were collected from the hanging wall (n = 3) and footwall (n = 1) of the Pine Mountain thrust sheet at Pound Gap to determine sediment provenance in this long-lived foreland basin system. Paleocurrent indicators considered in the context of the regional foreland basin system suggest transverse regional drainage during the development of Early and Late Mississippian delta complexes. Eustatic fall during the early stages of the Alleghanian orogeny to the east saw a shift in regional drainage with the development of a southwestward-flowing and axial braided river system in Early Pennsylvanian time followed by Middle Mississippian transgression of a fluvio-deltaic complex. Detrital zircon U-Pb age data from Lower Mississippian to Lower Pennsylvanian sandstone support regional interpretations of sediment sourcing from probably recycled foreland basin strata along the east Laurentian margin, whereas compositionally immature Middle Pennsylvanian sediment was sourced by a limited distribution of east Laurentia sources reflecting thrust belt migration into the adjacent foreland basin system during Alleghanian orogenesis.

In addition, the stratigraphy of the foreland basin system in the central Appalachian basin is significantly different compared to the stratigraphic record that is typified for foreland basin systems and suggests that the Carboniferous Appalachian foreland basin system investigated in this study does not fit the typical foreland basin model that is used widely today for both ancient and modern systems. Possible factors that produce the observed discrepancies between the central Appalachian and typical foreland basin systems may include differences in the timing, type, and frequency of orogenic events leading to foreland basin development, related variations in the rheology of the underlying lithosphere, and whether forebulge migration is mechanically static or mobile.

The Cordilleran margin of south-central Alaska is an area of active convergence where the Pacific plate is being subducted at a low angle beneath the North American plate. In the Matanuska Valley of south-central Alaska, the geology of the Mesozoic to Cenozoic Matanuska forearc basin system records a complex collisional history along the margin from Cretaceous to Miocene time and provides an opportunity to study how shallow-angle subduction affects upper plate processes. Paleocene-Eocene low-angle subduction of an eastward migrating spreading ridge and Oligocene oceanic plateau subduction caused uplift, deformation, and slab window magmatic intrusion and volcanism in the Matanuska Valley region, thereby modifying the depositional environment and structure of the forearc system. In this study, detailed field mapping in the Matanuska Valley region and structural analysis of Paleocene-Eocene nonmarine sedimentary strata are utilized to better understand the structural response of the forearc basin system to multi-stage flat-slab subduction beneath an accreted continental margin, a process observed along multiple modern convergent margins. Four geologic maps and structural cross-sections from key areas along the peripheries of the Matanuska Valley area and one regional cross-section across the forearc system are presented to delineate its local structural configuration and to contribute to a more complete understanding of how sedimentary and tectonic processes along modern convergent margins may be or have been impacted by shallow-angle type and related subduction processes.