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Preliminary detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology of the Wasatch Formation, Powder River Basin, Wyoming
The lower Eocene Wasatch Formation is more than 1500 m thick in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. The Wasatch is a Laramide synorgenic deposit that consists of paludal and lacustrine mudstone, fluvial sandstone, and coal. U-Pb geochronologic data on detrital zircons were gathered for a sandstone unit in the middle part of the succession. The Wasatch was collected along Interstate 90 just west of the Powder River, which is about 50 km east of the Bighorn Mountain front. The sandstone is lenticular in geometry and consists of arkosic arenite and wacke. The detrital zircon age spectrum ranged (n=99) from 1433-2957 Ma in age, and consisted of more than 95% Archean age grains, with an age peak of about 2900 Ma. Three populations of Archean ages are evident: 2886.6±10 Ma (24%), 2906.6±8.4 Ma (56%) and 2934.1±6.6 Ma (20%; all results 2 sigma). These ages are consistent with the age of Archean rocks exposed in the northern part of the range. The sparse Proterozoic grains were likely derived from the recycling of Cambrian and Carboniferous strata. These sands were transported to the Powder River Basin through the alluvial fans adjacent to the Piney Creek thrust. Drainage continued to the north through the basin and eventually into the Ancestral Missouri River and Gulf of Mexico. The provenance of the Wasatch is distinct from coeval Tatman and Willwood strata in the Bighorn and Absaroka basins, which were derived from distal source (>500 km) areas in the Sevier Highlands of Idaho and the Laramide Beartooth and Tobacco Root uplifts. Why the Bighorn Mountains shed abundant Eocene strata only to the east and not to the west remains enigmatic, and merits further study.
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