Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Ferre', Eric


The Heart Mountain Detachment (HMD) in Wyoming constitutes one of the largest known rock slides (3400 km2) on Earth. This detachment took place along the stratigraphic boundary between the Bighorn Dolomite at the hanging-wall and the Snowy Range Formation at the footwall. The slide resulted in the formation of an up to 3 m-thick carbonate ultracataclasite (CUC) at the base of the slide. The origin of the CUC and the nature of the triggering mechanism responsible for the initiation of the catastrophic movement have long been controversial. The most widely accepted theory is a mid-Eocene eruption in the Absaroka volcanic province that triggered rupture and subsequent detachment of Paleozoic rocks. Rapid sliding was facilitated by basal fluidization generated by thermo-mechanical decomposition of carbonate rocks. Here I present a proof of concept study addressing the question of the consistent magnetic fabrics observed in the CUC, as well as new observations indicating the discovery of mineral grains of volcanic origin within the CUC. Additionally, some constraints are placed on the thermo-chemical conditions operating at the base of this catastrophic landslide. Overall, the CUC displays an average magnetic susceptibility one order of magnitude higher (1803 . -6 [SI]) than the overlying Bighorn Dolomite (148 . -6 [SI]) and underlying Snowy Range Fm (636 . -6 [SI]). Anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS) data, field observations and microstructural analysis suggest that ferromagnetic (s.l) minerals in the CUC originate from the Bighorn Dolomite, the Tertiary volcanics and synkinematic thermal decomposition of pyrite into pyrrhotite and magnetite. Thermomagnetic investigations revealed a Curie temperature of 525 °C which suggests that magnetite is the dominant magnetic carrier mineral in the CUC. Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy analyses confirm that this magnetite has a relatively low ulvöspinel content. Magnetic hysteresis properties point to an average pseudo-single domain magnetic grain size or, alternatively, a mixture of single domain and multi-domain grains. The origin of AMS is magnetostatic, elucidated by a high degree of consistency between AMS directions and 3–D SPO directions. The anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS) directional data displays two dominant fabric orientations suggesting possible strain partitioning in the CUC. The consistency of magnetic fabrics suggests that the CUC followed a dominantly transpressive regime. The deformation mechanism causing the consistent AMS is a homogeneous passive rotation of magnetite grains. Microstructural analysis of iron bearing minerals suggests that a high oxygen fugacity was present in the CUC at the onset of the slide. Evidence for elevated temperatures in the CUC is shown by broken twins in calcite which form as result of dynamic recrystallization. High pore fluid in the CUC is indicated by CUC dikes intruding the hanging wall and by accretionary grains (lapilli). Finally, the presence of unserpentinized and a few weakly serpentinized olivine clasts in the CUC brings the "hot water" weakening mechanism proposed by Ahranov and Anders (2006) into question.




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