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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance and sediment-dispersal systems of the Cuicateco terrane, Mexico


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Sandstone petrography, detrital zircon geochronology, and sedimentology of Lower Cretaceous to Paleocene strata in the Cuicateco terrane of southern Mexico indicate an evolution from extensional-basin formation to foreland-basin development. The Early Cretaceous extensional basin is characterized by deposition of deep marine fans and channels, which were mainly sourced from Mesoproterozoic and Permian crystalline rocks of the western shoulder of the rift basin. Some submarine fans, especially in the northern Cuicateco terrane, record an additional source in the Early Cretaceous (ca 130 Ma.) continental arc. The fans were fed by fluvial systems in up-dip parts of the extensional basin system. The transition from middle Cretaceous tectonic quiescence to Late Cretaceous shortening is recorded by the Turonian-Coniacian Tecamalucan Formation. The Tecamalucan Formation is interpreted as pre-orogenic deposits, that comprises submarine-fan deposits sourced from Aptian-Albian carbonate platform and pre-Mesozoic basement. The foreland basin in the Cuicateco terrane was established by the Maastrichtian when foredeep strata of the Méndez Formation were deposited in the Cuicateco, Veracruz basin and across the western Gulf of Mexico, from Tampico to Tabasco. In the Zongolica region, these strata were derived from a contemporaneous volcanic arc (100–65 Ma) located to the west of the basin, the accreted Guerrero terrane (145–120 Ma), and the fold-belt itself. By the Paleocene, sediments were transported to the foreland basin by drainages sourced in the southwestern Mexico, such as the Late Cretaceous magmatic rocks of the Sierra Madre del Sur, and the Chortis block.
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The Geological Society of America
Special Paper 546
Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance and
sediment-dispersal systems of the Cuicateco terrane, Mexico
Maria Isabel Sierra-Rojas*
Timothy F. Lawton
Centro de Geociencias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Boulevard Juriquilla 3001, 76230 Querétaro, México
Uwe Martens
Centro de Geociencias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Boulevard Juriquilla 3001, 76230 Querétaro, México, and
Tectonic Analysis Ltd., Chestnut House, Burton Park, Duncton, West Sussex GU28 0LH, UK
Albrecht von Quadt
Geological Institute, ETH, Clausiusstrasse 25, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
Alejandro Beltran Triviño
Geological Institute, ETH, Sonneggstrasse 5, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
Henry Coombs
School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, Main Building, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK
Daniel F. Stockli
Department of Geological Sciences, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin,
University Station C9000, Austin, Texas 78712, USA
Sandstone petrography, detrital zircon geochronology, and sedimentology of
Lower Cretaceous to Paleocene strata in the Cuicateco terrane of southern Mexi-
co indicate an evolution from extensional basin formation to foreland basin devel-
opment. The Early Cretaceous extensional basin is characterized by deposition of
deep-marine fans and channels, which were mainly sourced from Mesoproterozoic
and Permian crystalline rocks of the western shoulder of the rift basin. Some sub-
marine fans, especially in the northern Cuicateco terrane, record an additional source
in the Early Cretaceous (ca. 130 Ma) continental arc. The fans were fed by fluvial
systems in updip parts of the extensional basin system. The transition from middle
Cretaceous tectonic quiescence to Late Cretaceous shortening is recorded by the
Turonian– Coniacian Tecamalucan Formation. The Tecamalucan Formation is inter-
preted as pre-orogenic deposits that represent submarine-fan deposits sourced from
*Corresponding author:; present address: Instituto de Geología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Estación Regional del
Noroeste, 83000 Hermosillo, Sonora, México.
Sierra-Rojas, M.I., Lawton, T.F., Martens, U., von Quadt, A., Beltran Triviño, A., Coombs, H., and Stockli, D.F., 2020, Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone
provenance and sediment-dispersal systems of the Cuicateco terrane, Mexico, in Martens, U., and Molina Garza, R.S., eds., Southern and Central Mexico: Base-
ment Framework, Tectonic Evolution, and Provenance of Mesozoic–Cenozoic Basins: Geological Society of America Special Paper 546, p. 1–26, https://doi
.org/10.1130/2020.2546(10). © 2020 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved. For permission to copy, contact
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2 Sierra-Rojas et al.
Controls on sediment-dispersal systems in a sedimentary
basin include the inherited paleogeography, crustal structure, tec-
tonic regime, and climate, which can be interpreted by the inte-
gration of provenance techniques such as detrital geochronology
and sandstone petrography (e.g., Johnsson, 1993; Dickinson and
Gehrels, 2008). The North America Cordillera contains a Meso-
zoic to early Cenozoic record of magmatism, terrane accretion,
and retro-arc deformation (Dickinson, 2004), where evolution
from a continental rift, through an extensional back-arc regime,
to shortening-related retro-arc foreland deposition created a
structural and lithological signature in the geological record.
Jurassic and Early Cretaceous extensional tectonics pre-
ceded Late Cretaceous shortening in Mexico (Fitz-Díaz et
al., 2018, and references therein). The opening of the Gulf of
Mexico and the counterclockwise rotation of the Yucatan block
from the Jurassic to Early Cretaceous (Pindell, 1985; Ross and
Scotese, 1988; Pindell and Kennan, 2009) were coeval with the
development of NW-SE–trending extensional basins and expo-
sure of adjacent Paleozoic and Precambrian basement of main-
land Mexico (Martini and Ortega-Gutiérrez, 2016). Some of
those extensional landscapes persisted into the Late Cretaceous
as paleogeographic features that controlled sediment-dispersal
systems and the development of carbonate platforms (Wilson,
1990; Goldhammer, 1999). Such is the case of the Early Creta-
ceous Chivillas basin in the Cuicateco terrane (Figs. 1 and 2),
where coeval deep-marine sedimentation and magmatism took
place in an extensional regime (Mendoza-Rosales et al., 2010;
Coombs, 2016). Afterward, carbonate platforms (i.e., Cordoba
platform) developed and thrived on the structural topography
inherited from the extension (e.g., Wilson and Ward, 1993).
Subsequent deformation and magmatism of the Mexican fold-
and-thrust belt from Late Cretaceous to Paleogene time created
an adjacent foreland basin, representing a significant sediment
repository that migrated diachronously from west to east (Law-
ton et al., 2015).
We present new detrital zircon data from strata in southern
Mexico that span Early Cretaceous to Paleocene time. The new
data improve existing models of the tectonic development of
Mexico between the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt and the Isth-
mus of Tehuantepec through enhanced understanding of specific
sediment sources and the nature of the exposed rocks through
time. The primary objective of this study was to document the
evolution of the sediment-dispersal and depositional systems in
the Cuicateco terrane and the younger Veracruz basin in response
to evolving basin development and a dynamic tectonic setting. To
accomplish this goal, we integrated regional geologic relations,
depositional environment interpretations, sandstone petrogra-
phy, and detrital zircon geochronology in order to characterize
sediment sources. We identified and traced restricted submarine
fans and deep-marine deposits in extensional basins that formed
after initial extension. Subsequently, due to thermal subsidence,
a carbonate platform–basin system developed. Finally, during a
period of shortening, sediment was transported into a foreland
basin adjacent to a mature orogenic thrust wedge.
The Cuicateco terrane is an inverted basin separated from
the Oaxacan terrane (Ortega-Gutierrez et al., 1995) by the Oax-
aca fault and from the Maya block by the Vista Hermosa fault
(Fig. 1). The Cuicateco terrane consists of crystalline units in its
western and eastern flanks. The western Cuicateco flank (Figs. 2
and 3) is composed of the Teotitlán Complex, La Nopalera unit,
and the Pochotepec unit. The westernmost Teotitlán Complex is
a N-S belt of high-grade metamorphic rocks and granitic intru-
sions with U-Pb zircon ages ranging from Jurassic to Early Cre-
taceous and slightly younger K/Ar and 40Ar/39Ar ages (Angeles-
Moreno, 2006; Coombs, 2016). This belt has been interpreted as
a mylonitic zone (Delgado-Argote et al., 1992; Alaniz-Alvarez
et al., 1996), or a migmatitic complex (Angeles-Moreno, 2006;
Angeles-Moreno et al., 2012; Coombs, 2016). La Nopalera belt
consists of amphibolites, two-mica schist, and associated granitic
dikes of Proterozoic age (U. Martens, 2019, personal commun.).
The Teotitlán Complex is thrust over La Nopalera belt, which is
in turn thrust over the Chivillas Formation (Angeles-Moreno et
al., 2012). The Pochotepec unit to the south, also part of the west-
ern Cuicateco crystalline belt, consists of greenschist-facies met-
amorphic rocks with volcano-sedimentary and minor ultramafic
protoliths. The age of this belt is poorly known; K/Ar mica ages
in the Concepción Pápalo area suggest Maastrichtian–Paleogene
metamorphism (Delgado-Argote et al., 1992). The eastern Cui-
cateco flank, located east of the Aloapan fault, which extends
Aptian–Albian carbonate platform and pre-Mesozoic basement. The foreland basin
in the Cuicateco terrane was established by the Maastrichtian, when foredeep strata
of the Méndez Formation were deposited in the Cuicateco terrane, Veracruz basin,
and across the western Gulf of Mexico, from Tampico to Tabasco. In the Zongolica
region, these strata were derived from a contemporaneous volcanic arc (100–65 Ma)
located to the west of the basin, the accreted Guerrero terrane (145–120 Ma), and the
fold belt itself. By the Paleocene, sediments were transported to the foreland basin by
drainages sourced in southwestern Mexico, such as the Late Cretaceous magmatic
rocks of the Sierra Madre del Sur, and the Chortis block.
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 3
to the southern edge of the Cuicateco terrane (Fig. 4), is char-
acterized by chlorite-muscovite schists, named the Mazatlán de
las Flores Schist (Angeles-Moreno et al., 2012), with Paleozoic
K-Ar ages (Carfantan, 1986; Vázquez-Meneses et al., 1989, in
Angeles-Moreno et al., 2012).
A general view of the sedimentary strata and the litho facies
distribution of the study area (Fig. 3) indicates the presence of two
main paleogeographic domains: the Chivillas basin on the west
and the Cordoba carbonate platform on the east. The Chivillas
Formation, which constitutes the fill of the Chivillas basin, con-
sists of deep-marine sedimentary rocks locally metamorphosed
to subgreenschist facies, pillow lavas, lava flows, and dikes. The
sedimentary rocks include conglomerate, sandstone, and shale,
in which facies associations indicate deposition on a continen-
tal slope to basinal setting. The age of the Chivillas Formation
ranges from Valanginian to early Aptian, as defined by micropa-
leontology and maximum depositional ages obtained from detri-
tal zircon U-Pb geochronology (Alzaga-Ruiz and Pano, 1989;
Mendoza-Rosales et al., 2010).
Siliciclastic deposition in the Chivillas basin ended in the
early Aptian and was followed by deposition of cream-colored to
gray limestone and mudstone, black shale, and chert lenses of the
Lower Tamaulipas Formation (Fig. 3). To the east, in the Cordoba
platform, Aptian deposition took place on an inner carbonate
platform and consisted of light-gray limestones, locally dolomi-
tized, with local evaporitic intervals (Ortuño-Arzate et al., 2003).
From Albian to Cenomanian, reefal limestones, dolomites, and
miliolid packstones typical of carbonate platform and lagoonal
environments dominated deposition in the Cordoba platform,
whereas basinal facies of the Upper Tamaulipas Formation were
Figure 1. Map of Mexico showing some Cretaceous to Paleogene physiographic elements. Dashed line shows the restored Baja California pen-
insula (after Ferrari et al., 2013) and Chortís block (after Rogers et al., 2007). CD MX—Cuidad de México; COP—Coahuila Platform; GoM—
Gulf of Mexico; KI—Early Cretaceous; VSLP—Valles–San Luis Potosí platform; GLP—Golden Lane platform; GMP—Guerrero-Morelos
platform; CRP—Córdoba platform; SMP—Sierra Madre platform; YP—Yucatan platform; OF—Oaxaca fault; VHF—Vista Hermosa fault.
Geological features are after 1:250,000 geological cartography of Servicio Geológico Mexicano (Martínez-Amador et al., 2001; González-
Ramos et al., 2000) and Suter (1987), Haenggi (2002), and López-Doncel (2003).
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4 Sierra-Rojas et al.
deposited in the Chivillas basin (Fig. 3). Regionally, the Turonian
is represented by dark-gray limestone and chert, which cor-
respond to the drawdown platforms and oceanic anoxic event
(OAE) 2 (Núñez-Useche et al., 2014).
During the Late Cretaceous–Paleogene, eastward-migrating
contractile deformation and magmatism caused structural thick-
ening of the upper continental crust and attendant tectonic subsi-
dence (Fitz-Díaz et al., 2018, and references therein). The hinter-
land of the orogen is represented by Jurassic to Lower Cretaceous
magmatic and sedimentary rocks of the Guerrero terrane. Thick
clastic turbidites of the Mexcala Formation were deposited in the
foredeep during the Cenomanian–Coniacian in the Guerrero area,
whereas the first clastic input in the Zongolica area (Fig. 2) con-
sisted of slope deposits of the Tecamalucan Formation (Alzaga
and Santamaria, 1987). As the foreland orogenic wedge advanced
toward the east, calcareous and siliciclastic distal turbidites with
some pyroclastic components (Méndez Formation) were deposited
in the Maastrichtian foredeep of the Zongolica area. Toward the
Veracruz basin, thick Paleocene siliciclastic distal turbidites were
deposited (Johnson and Barros, 1993; Prost and Aranda, 2001).
The Sierra de Zongolica is an inverted basin. Upon short-
ening, the Mesozoic sedimentary succession was diachronously
deformed by thrusts (Ortuño-Arzate et al., 2003). The eastern
border of the deformed front is located to the east of the Cordoba
platform and constituted the limit between the Sierra de Zongol-
ica and the Veracruz basin (Fig. 1). The basin-to-platform facies
change partially controlled the contractile deformation in the
northern Cuicateco terrane, permitting a penetrative deformation
of the basinal successions, which occupy a series of tectonic sliv-
ers east of the Cordoba platform. The main structure of the Sierra
de Zongolica consists of narrow antiforms in series of thrust
duplexes, where the décollement surface has been interpreted
to lie within Upper Jurassic shale of the Tepexilotla Formation
or Lower Cretaceous evaporitic rocks in the Cordoba platform
(Ortuño-Arzate et al., 2003).
Sandstone samples were collected from siliciclastic beds along
the section. The point-count analysis was conducted according
Figure 2. Geologic map of northern Cuicateco terrane, modified from Martinez-Amador et al. (2001) and Angeles-Moreno et al. (2012).
Geochronologic data from basement units are after Elías-Herrera et al. (2005), Torres et al. (1999), Keppie (2004), Angeles-Moreno et al.
(2012), and Delgado-Argote et al. (1992). Ar—argon, K—potassium, Plg—plagioclase, Bi—biotite, Ms—muscovite, Hb—hornblende,
Zr—zircon, MDA—maximum depositional age, DZ—detrital zircon, PC—point count.
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 5
Figure 3. Correlation chart of Jurassic to Paleogene units of southern Mexico. Diamonds indicate the crystallization age (white) and maximum depositional age (MDA; closed)
for the respective units. Mixteco-Oaxaca block stratigraphy is after Sierra-Rojas et al. (2016, and references therein); Chivillas basin, Cordoba platform, and Veracruz basin are
modified from Ortuño-Arzate et al. (2003; courtesy of American Association of Petroleum Geologists). Geochronological data of stratigraphic units are as follows: Las Llu-
vias—Campa-Uranga et al. (2004); Otlaltepec and Piedra Hueca—Martini et al. (2016); El Pozuelo—Solari et al. (2007); Chilixtlahuaca and Ayuquila—Campos-Madrigal et
al. (2012); Ayú complex—Helbig et al. (2012); Teotitlán Complex—Angeles-Moreno (2006), Coombs (2016); Taxco—Campa-Uranga et al. (2012); Zicapa—Sierra-Rojas and
Molina-Garza (2014); Atzompa—Sierra-Rojas et al. (2016); Xonamanca—Coombs (2016); Chivillas—Mendoza-Rosales et al. (2010), this study, and Méndez and Velasco—
this study. GoM—Gulf of Mexico; OAE—oceanic anoxic event.
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6 Sierra-Rojas et al.
to the Gazzi-Dickinson method (Ingersoll et al., 1984) with 500
framework grains counted for each thin section (Appendix DR11).
Thin sections were half-stained with sodium cobaltinitrite to iden-
tify K-feldspar easily.
Medium- to fine-grained sandstone samples were collected
for detrital zircon analysis. The sample preparation for zircon
analysis included crushing, sieving, Wilfley density separation,
and Frantz magnetic separation. Zircon grains were mounted by
random picking using a binocular microscope. After polishing
the mount to expose the zircon walls, samples were scanned by
binocular microscope to evaluate the external structure (shape,
roundness, color) and by cathodoluminescence (CL) to obtain
details of the interior structure (zonation, the presence of cores,
Figure 4. Geologic map of southern Cuicateco terrane, modified from González-Ramos et al. (2000). Geochronologic data from basement units
are after Alaniz-Alvarez et al. (1996), Ortega-Obregón et al. (2014), Solari et al. (2001), and Keppie et al. (2003). Zr—zircon.
1GSA Data Repository Item 2020XXX—Appendix DR1: Thin-section
sample locations and point-count raw data, Appendix DR2: Detrital zircon
geochronology sample locations and all U-Pb geochronology data, and Ap-
pendix DR3: Chivillas zircon rare earth element concentrations—is available
at www., or on request from editing@ or Documents Secretary, GSA, P.O. Box 9140, Boulder, CO
80301-9140, USA.
inclusions). We analyzed cores and rims of the zircon grains by
laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry
(LA-ICP-MS) with a laser beam spot of 23 µm (Appendix DR2
[see footnote 1]). Zircon geochemistry of trace elements was per-
formed on three samples from the Chivillas Formation (Appen-
dix DR3 [see footnote 1]).
Ages were determined from 206Pb/238U for zircon grains
younger than 800 Ma and from 207U/206Pb for zircon grains
older than 800 Ma. For each sample, discordance criteria were
applied to select the concordant zircon grains, as follows:
<30% discordance for all analyses, <3% reverse discordance
for all analyses, <5% discordance for Precambrian grains, and
<8% discordance for Phanerozoic grains. Probability density
plots were made for the concordant zircon grains, and maxi-
mum depositional ages (MDAs) were determined from the
single youngest concordant zircon or, when available, by cal-
culating the weighted mean of the youngest cluster of three or
more ages overlapping at 2s (Dickinson and Gehrels, 2009).
All the plots were obtained using the Excel macro Isoplot 4.15
(Ludwig, 2012).
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 7
Chivillas and Jaltepetongo Formations
Three transects across the Cuicateco terrane were studied to
identify lithofacies and potential sediment sources. In general,
the sedimentary component of the Chivillas Formation consists
of cyclic successions of sandstone, siltstone, shale, and minor
conglomerate and limestone. Northern and central exposures of
the Chivillas Formation (Fig. 2) comprise cyclic sequences of
a normally graded conglomerate with black-shale rip-up clasts
in beds 0.3 m to 1.5 m thick. These are interbedded with sets
of coarse-grained arkose in sheet-like beds ~20 cm thick, fine-
grained sandstone with ripple cross-laminations in layers ~1–3 cm
thick, interbedded with massive beds (30–70 cm) of medium-
grained arkose, and thin layers (~5 cm) of dark-gray limestone.
Lithofacies analysis was hindered by the structural complex-
ity of the central Cuicateco region; nevertheless, two different
lithofacies associations were distinguished. One association is
characterized by channelized coarse-grained, structureless to
crudely graded conglomerates, with a thickness of ~0.3–1 m,
interbedded with tabular and structureless coarse-grained sand-
stones and siltstones and calcareous shales (Fig. 5A). Uncom-
mon matrix- and mud-supported debrites, as well as slumps, are
present in association with this lithofacies (Figs. 5B and 5C). A
second lithofacies association consists of thin-bedded, medium
to fine-grained sandstones with scouring surfaces and rip-up
clasts, with centimeter-scale convolute lamination, interbedded
with laminar black shale and dark-gray limestones, in beds less
than 10 cm thick (Figs. 5D and 5E). Very fine-grained turbidites
are present all along the Cuicateco terrane with intense defor-
mation. They are composed of very fine-grained siltstones and
slates, laminated in sets from 1 to 2 cm, interbedded with very
fine-grained sand sheets (Fig. 5F), associated with a channel-fill
sandstone in a distal turbidite.
The southern Cuicateco basinal sequences, termed the Jalte-
petongo Formation (Ortega-González and Lambarria-Silva,
1991), are characterized by sets of structureless layers of con-
glomerates and coarse-grained sandstones in the lower part, fol-
lowed by cyclic interbedding of thin layers of very fine-grained
sandstone and shale (Figs. 5E and 5F). The upper unit is charac-
terized by convolute laminations (Fig. 5E) and very low-grade
metamorphism. The approximate thickness of the unit is impos-
sible to determine due to the strong deformation that affected the
area. The lower part has been interpreted as having been depos-
ited in a shallow-marine environment, whereas the upper part
corresponds to deep-marine facies. The age of the Jaltepetongo
Formation has been determined by fossil record as Berriasian–
Barremian (Ortega-González and Lambarria-Silva, 1991).
Tecamalucan Formation
In the northern area of the Cuicateco terrane, near Orizaba
(Fig. 3), Turonian–Coniacian terrigenous beds compose the Teca-
malucan Formation. The lower member of the Tecamalucan For-
mation is characterized by a series of bioclastic packstones and
wackestones interbedded with medium-grained calcarenites,
matrix-dominated sandstones, and laminated shales (Fig. 6A).
Some layers of calcareous shale contain trace fossils of the Nere-
ites and Zoophycus ichnofacies (Fig. 6C). The upper member of the
Tecamalucan Formation is characterized by pebble conglomerates
and abundant lithic sandstones; the sandstones contain a significant
1 m10 cm 15 cm
1 m
10 cm1 m
Rip up clasts
Rip up clasts
Rip up clasts
Figure 5. Lithofacies associations in the Chivillas Formation: (A) channelized coarse-grained, structureless to crudely graded conglomerates;
(B) matrix- and mud-supported debrite; (C) slumps; (D) thin-bedded, medium- to fine-grained sandstones; (E) centimeter-scale convolute lami-
nation; (F) black shale and dark-gray limestones.
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8 Sierra-Rojas et al.
proportion of limestone grains. The conglomerates are lenticular,
matrix supported, and composed of disorganized angular clasts of
limestone, milky quartz, schist, and black-shale intraclasts. The bio-
genic components in the shales of the Tecamalucan Formation are
mainly planktonic foraminifers. Based on lithofacies described in
Alzaga-Ruiz and Santamaria-Orozco (1987) and our observations,
we interpret the Tecamalucan Formation as having been deposited
in slope-proximal deep-marine fans. The matrix-dominated sand-
stones and the matrix-supported conglomerates may constitute
debrites, whereas the sheet-like beds of sandstone interbedded with
calcareous shale containing deep-water trace fossils may represent
the distal aprons of a channel-fan system. The Tecamalucan Forma-
tion is strongly folded and faulted, causing the changes in facies,
the interdigitation of strata, and even the geometry of the beds to be
significantly obscured.
Méndez Formation
The Méndez Formation crops out in the structural lows of the
eastern part of the Sierra de Zongolica (Fig. 2), where it unconform-
ably overlies limestones of the Guzmantla Formation (Fig. 3). The
Méndez Formation consists of a cyclic succession of intercalated
shales, marls, and very fine-grained sandstones. The composition of
the shales and sandstones is mainly calcareous with some coarser
terrigenous and organic matter. The thickness of the individual
beds varies from 1 to 5 cm (Figs. 7A and 7B). The unit is made up
of thin layers of fine-grained sandstone, which normally grade to
very fine-grained sandstone with mica. The sandstones have pla-
nar cross-lamination and horizontal lamination and are interbedded
with very fine-grained sandstone to siltstone with horizontal lami-
nation, which grades upwards to massive shale. The Méndez For-
Figure 6. Outcrop photos of Tecamalucan Formation: (A) medium-grained sandstones and laminated shales; (B) packstones and wackestones
interbedded with medium-grained clastic limestones; (C) calcareous shale containing Nereites and Zoophycus ichnofacies.
Figure 7. (A–B) Intercalated shale, marl, and very fine-grained sandstone from the Méndez Formation. (C) Velasco Formation, showing medium-
to fine-grained terrigenous sandstone interbedded with siltstone and shale. (D) Velasco Formation, showing fine-grained sandstone with erosional
bases, normally graded, and ripple cross-laminations.
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 9
mation was deposited in a deep-marine basin from density currents
sourced in the fold belt and the hinterland. The age of the Méndez
Formation is Campanian, as determined by planktonic foraminifera
and ammonites (Aguayo and Kanamori, 1976; Keller et al., 1997;
Ifrim et al., 2005).
Velasco Formation
A succession of slightly deformed gray to brown sandstones
and shales is widespread throughout the Veracruz basin, east of the
mountain front of the Sierra de Zongolica. The unit is character-
ized by cyclic intercalation of brownish tabular beds of medium- to
fine-grained sandstones interbedded with siltstones and shales. The
sandstone beds have a thickness less than 7 cm. The beds have ero-
sional bases and are normally graded with ripple cross-laminations
to the top (Figs. 7C and 7D). The rocks are rich in detrital white
mica and calcareous clasts. The lithofacies association indicates a
deep-marine depositional environment in distal fans, and the fora-
minifera content suggests a neritic to bathyal biozone (Alegret et
al., 2001). The age of the Velasco Formation in the Veracruz basin is
early Paleocene, as determined by benthic and planktonic foramin-
ifera (Alegret et al., 2001).
Modal analysis was conducted on coarse- to medium-
grained sandstones from the Lower to Upper Cretaceous strati-
graphic units. A qualitative description and identification of the
components were done on fine-grained sandstones and siltstones
of the Upper Cretaceous to Paleocene strata. Samples with exten-
sive weathering, effects of pressure solution from low-grade
metamorphism, and the presence of pseudo-matrix were omitted
from the modal analysis.
In general, sandstone samples from the northern localities
(Fig. 2; Table 1; Appendix DR1) are dominated by plagioclase
and K-feldspar with symplectic texture. However, the sandstones
have abundant grains of micritic limestones (10%–15%). In con-
trast, in the samples from the eastern localities (e.g., sample Vel2;
Fig. 2; Appendix DR1), the monocrystalline quartz (30%–35%)
and felsitic volcanic lithics (15%–20%) are more abundant. Both
localities show variable amounts of stretched metamorphic poly-
crystalline quartz and schistose rocks. Dense minerals such as
tourmaline are also abundant in the sandstones of the Tecamalu-
can Formation.
Lower Cretaceous (Chivillas and Jaltepetongo Formations)
Seven samples were examined from this area, six from the
Chivillas Formation and one from the Jaltepetongo Formation
(Figs. 2 and 4; Table 1; Appendix DR1). The samples from the
Chivillas Formation were collected in two localities, in the north-
ern area (Ch7, Ch8, Ch9) and in the central area (Ch10, Ch11,
Ch13). Framework grains in the northern locality are mainly
stretched metamorphic quartz grains, common quartz, vein quartz,
QtFL% QmFLt% LmLvLs% P/F
Chivillas Formation
Sample Qt FL Qm FLtLmLvLs P/F
Ch82666813 66 21 44 13 43 0.9
Ch10 52 40 842401819671
Ch11 35 32 33 27 32 41 10 72 18 1
Ch12 31 53 16 24 53 23 83 17 0 0.6
Ch13 43 35 22 24 35 41 40 50 10 0.9
Jaltepetongo Formation
Sample Qt FL Qm FLtLmLvLs P/F
Ch14 38 44 18 32 44 24 53 47 0 0.8
Tecamalucan Formation
Sample Qt FL Qm FLtLmLvLs P/F
Tec1 22 45 33 12 45 43 28 10 62 1
Tec2 26 51 23 14 51 35 36 21 43 1
Velasco Formation
Sample Qt FL Qm FLtLmLvLs P/F
Vel2A 47 31 22 29 31 40 33 62
Vel2B 52 21 27 36 21 43 43 45 12 1
Note: Qt—total quartz; F—total feldspar; L—total lithics; Qm—monocrystalline quartz; F—total
feldspar; Lt—total lithic grains; Lm—total metamorphic grains; Lv—total volcanic grains; Ls—total
sedimentary grains; P/F—plagioclase feldspar/total feldspar.
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10 Sierra-Rojas et al.
K-feldspar with graphic texture, plagioclase, and a few foliated
metamorphic and felsitic volcanic lithics (Figs. 8 and 9A; Table
1; Appendix DR1). Samples from the central locality (Fig. 2) dif-
fer from the northern samples by the presence of monocrystal-
line embayed quartz, felsitic volcanic grains, and volcanic grains
with trachytic texture (Figs. 9B and 9C). Sample Ch12 is a sand-
stone interbedded with an oligomictic matrix-supported breccia
of gneiss blocks; the sandstone exhibits angular grains with poor
sorting, and it is rich in K-feldspar and monocrystalline quartz
(Fig. 9D). All the samples from the central localities have black-
shale intraclasts and accessory minerals that include zircon, hema-
tite, titanite, and tourmaline.
One medium-grained Jaltepetongo Formation sandstone,
collected south of the Sierra de Juárez belt, was analyzed (Fig. 4;
Table 1). The framework grains include monocrystalline quartz
with veins, polycrystalline quartz, plagioclase, K-feldspar with
symplectic texture, stretched metamorphic grains, and lathwork
volcanic grains.
Upper Cretaceous (Tecamalucan Formation)
Two samples of the Tecamalucan Formation were col-
lected in the northern area (Fig. 3), a lithic arkose and a
feldspathic litharenite (Fig. 8). Both samples contain grains
of monocrystalline quartz, stretched metamorphic polycrys-
talline quartz, equant polycrystalline quartz, plagioclase,
K-feldspar with symplectic texture, schistose metamorphic
limestone, and felsitic volcanic rocks (Figs. 9E and 9F; Table
1; Appendix DR1).
Maastrichtian (Méndez Formation)
The Méndez Formation samples are calcareous shales, silt-
stones, and uncommon fine-grained sandstones. Some calcare-
ous shale samples contain abundant planktonic foraminifera. The
siltstones are made of angular grains of plagioclase, monocrys-
talline quartz, foliated polycrystalline quartz, white mica, and
dense minerals such as zircon, apatite, and tourmaline. Most of
the samples contain bitumen laminations and patches. The effect
of compaction in the shale is indicated by flattened patches of
bitumen and flattened planktonic foraminifera.
Paleocene (Velasco Formation)
The Velasco Formation is mainly composed of shales, silt-
stones, and a few beds of calcareous shales. We estimated the detri-
tal components of the siltstone to consist of plagioclase (30%),
monocrystalline quartz (20%), polycrystalline quartz (30%), and
lithic fragments (20%), which include grains of micrite, chert, fel-
sitic volcanic lithic grains, quartz-mica foliated aggregates, as well
as some dense minerals such as chlorite, titanite, zircon, and tour-
maline. Most samples contain bitumen lenses and patches. Two
fine-grained sandstones from the Velasco Formation were point
counted (Table 1; Appendix DR1); they include a lithic arkose
and a feldspathic litharenite composed of subrounded grains. The
framework grains of the samples are monocrystalline quartz, pla-
gioclase, metamorphic lithic grains, felsic volcanic lithic grains,
and few micritic lithic grains (Table 1; Fig. 9G). Tourmaline and
zircon are abundant accessory minerals.
Figure 8. Ternary compositional plots for detrital modes of sandstones from Chivillas, Jaltepetongo, Tecamalucan, and Velasco formations. Data
are listed in Table 1. For QtFL plot (L = Lm + Lv + Ls), provenance fields are from Dickinson (1985). For QmFLt plot (Lt = L + Qp), provenance
fields are from Dickinson et al. (1983). LmLvLs ternary plot is after Ingersoll and Suczek (1979). F—total feldspar; L—total unstable lithic
grains; Lm—total metamorphic grains; Ls—total sedimentary grains; Lv—total volcanic grains; Lt—total lithic grains; Qm—monocrystalline
quartz; Qp—total polycrystalline quartz; Qt—total quartzose grains.
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 11
Jaltepetongo Formation
Two samples of lithic medium-grained lithic arkoses (Ch5
and Ch6) were collected in the southern part of the study area
along the road from Oaxaca to Tuxtepec (Fig. 4). Zircon grains
in the two samples are dominated by euhedral, slightly rounded,
pink or colorless grains. In sample Ch5, 176 analyses were per-
formed, 14 of which were rejected. The Th/U ratios >0.1 support
an igneous origin for most of the zircon grains (Connelly, 2001).
For sample Ch6, in total, 177 analyses were performed, 13 of
Figure 9. Photomicrographs of sand-
stones from the Chivillas (A–D),
Tecamalucan (E–F), and Velasco (G)
formations: (A) polarized light, sam-
ple Ch3, medium-grained sandstone
with abundant monocrystalline quartz,
subangular plagioclase, and volcanic
lithics; (B) polarized light, sample
Ch7, medium-grained lithic arkose
with abundant polycrystalline quartz,
trachytic volcanic grains, plagioclase,
and felsitic volcanic lithics; (C) polar-
ized light, sample Ch13, fine-grained
lithic arkose with abundant plagio-
clase, monocrystalline quartz with
embayments; (D) plane light, stained
with Na cobaltinitrite for alkaline feld-
spar (yellow), sample Ch12) arkose;
(E) polarized light, fine-grained lithic
arkose (sample Tec2) with abundant
micritic grains, monocrystalline and
polycrystalline quartz, tabular plagio-
clase, and metamorphic lithics; (F)
polarized light, medium-grained lithic
arkose (sample Tec1); (G) polarized
light, fine-grained feldspathic litharen-
ite (sample Vel2B) with abundant pla-
gioclase, monocrystalline quartz, and
tourmaline. Symbols: Pl— plagioclase;
K—potassium feldspar; Lsc—detrital
carbonate grain; LM—metamorphic
lithic grain; Lmf—foliated quartz-
mica metamorphic grains; Lvm—
microlithic volcanic lithic; Lvt—
tuffaceous and vitric volcanic lithic;
Lvf—felsitic volcanic lithic; Qm—
monocrystalline quartz; Qp—poly-
crystalline quartz; Tur— tourmaline;
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12 Sierra-Rojas et al.
which were rejected. From the grains selected, all but one grain
is characterized by Th/U ratios >0.1. Both samples yielded one
main group of zircon grains of Grenville age ranging from ca.
1400 to 950 Ma (Fig. 10).
Chivillas Formation
Sample Ch1 is a lithic arkose collected in the central part
of the study area near the town of Coxcatlán (Fig. 2). The zircon
fraction of the sample is dominated by euhedral colorless grains,
with a few rounded pink ones. Of 153 analyses, 107 were selected
to be used in calculations. The sample yielded three age groups
from Mesoproterozoic to Permian (Fig. 10). The Grenville age
group (24% of the sample) ranges from ca. 1400 to 925 Ma,
an Ediacaran to Cambrian-age group (7% of the sample) ranges
from ca. 515 to 580 Ma, and the Permian–Triassic age group
(69% of the sample) ranges from ca. 240 to 288 Ma. The median
for the Permian population of zircon grains (n = 71) yielded an
age of 262 ± 2 Ma.
The Permian zircon grains show homogeneous Th/U ratios
>0.1 that suggest an igneous origin for the source of zircon. The
Pan-African and Grenville-age grains show Th/U ratios >0.1,
with only two analyses yielding lower ratios, possibly related to
very high values of U.
Sample Ch2 is a medium- to coarse-grained lithic sandstone
that contains subrounded to rounded zircon grains with different
size, aspect ratio, CL texture, and trace-element concentrations. Of
48 dated spots, 40 were selected for the calculations (Fig. 10), which
included Phanerozoic analyses with discordance better than 15%,
Neoproterozoic analyses with discordance better than 10%, and
older analyses with discordance better than 5%. The largest popula-
tion in the sample (n = 8) is Early Cretaceous (median 130 +4/–1 Ma).
The zircon grains of this population are the least rounded; they are
prismatic with an aspect ratio up to 6:1, they invariably show con-
centric igneous zoning, and their Th/U ratios have a small spread.
We conclude the grains come from a homogeneous igneous source,
and we surmise they were possibly derived from volcanic deposits
nearly contemporaneous with the sample deposition.
Figure 10. Detrital zircon age histo-
grams and probability density plots for
all samples of the Chivillas and Jalte-
petongo formations. Diagrams on the
right include all analyses; diagrams on
the left include zircon ages younger than
350 Ma. MSWD—mean square of
weighted deviates.
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 13
The ages, rare earth element (REE) pattern, and CL textures
of the older zircon grains in the sample are very heterogeneous.
The ages range from Jurassic to Archean, the Th/U ratios range
from 0.07 to 2, and the REE patterns are disparate. Some of the
pre-Cretaceous zircon grains also show concentric zoning typical
of an igneous origin (Fig. 11A). However, some of the grains
are metamorphic; for instance, one Neoproterozoic grain has
depressed heavy (H) REEs, indicating growth with garnet (Rub-
atto, 2002), and some of the late Mesoproterozoic grains have
low Th/U or slightly depressed HREEs (Appendix DR3).
Sample Ch3 is a coarse-grained arkose from which 60 zircon
spots were analyzed. Of these, 51 were deemed suitable for the
probability density plot (Fig. 10; errors in 206Pb/238U age <4%,
discordance better than 10% for Permian spots, discordance <3%
for Precambrian spots). The sample contains a Permian popula-
tion, two Ediacaran grains, and a group of zircon grains yielding
ages in the 1750–930 Ma range.
Precambrian grains are mostly rounded and show CL with
complex cores and rims (Fig. 11B). Two Precambrian grains with
ages of ca. 1005 and 985 Ma yielded depressed HREE patterns,
suggesting they grew with garnet, possibly under metamorphic
conditions (Rubatto, 2002). The two Ediacaran grains are rela-
tively dark under CL and show faint sector zoning (Fig. 11B).
The Permian grains have similar Th/U = 0.4–0.9, mostly parallel
REE patterns, and CL texture characterized by prismatic, bipy-
ramidal euhedral grains with typical concentric igneous zoning
(Fig. 11B). The similarity in age, chemistry, and CL texture of this
population allowed us to calculate a median, which yielded 277 ±
3 Ma (n = 23, mean square of weighted deviates [MSWD] = 3.9).
This sample, therefore, contains zircon grains from pre- Oaxaquia
Precambrian igneous-metamorphic events (1.8–1.3 Ga), the Oax-
aquia igneous and metamorphic suite (1250–900 Ma), and an
igneous event at 277 ± 3 Ma.
Sample Ch4 is a red sandstone that contains anhedral
rounded zircon grains. There are a variety of CL textures; some
grains are characteristically igneous with oscillatory and sector
zoning, while others are more homogeneous, indicating meta-
morphic origins. The core-rim relations, and the variable Th/U
concentrations of zircon (0.03–0.8) suggest that the zircons did
not all form in the same event or environment. Of the 109 ana-
lyzed grains, 99 were deemed reliable enough to be used in age
calculations (errors in 206Pb/238U ratios better than 6% and discor-
dance better than 4%). All but one of the zircon analyses yielded
Precambrian ages (Fig. 10), chiefly in the 1400–900 Ma range. In
this range, the probability density plot shows four relative max-
ima, which were deconvolved by Gaussian deconvolution yield-
ing 977.4 ± 19 Ma, 1076 ± 23 Ma, 1171.9 ± 8.3 Ma, and 1295 ±
16 Ma. REE zircon patterns yielded varied results; the eight
analyses with most depressed HREE yielded ages in the 1070–
940 Ma range, suggesting that the youngest deconvolved popula-
tion is metamorphic. One zircon grain yielded a Permian age like
the Permian populations observed in other Chivillas samples, and
it is therefore deemed significant.
Tecamalucan Formation
Three samples were collected and analyzed for U-Pb in zir-
con. Two samples (Tec1 and Tec2) were collected in the north-
ern area, southwest of Orizaba (Fig. 2). A third sample (Tec3)
was collected on the eastern border of the Cordoba platform. The
three samples show similar age groups (Fig. 12), dominated by
Permian–Triassic and Proterozoic populations (Table 2; Appen-
dix DR2).
Sample Tec1 is dominated by subhedral and subrounded
pink zircon grains with an aspect ratio of 2:1, but it also con-
tains euhedral colorless grains with an aspect ratio of 4:1. Of 327
analyses, 303 grains were used for the probability density plot.
The sample yielded four age groups from Mesoproterozoic to
Jurassic. The older Grenvillian age group (50% of the sample)
ranges between 1250 and 940 Ma, a Permian–Triassic age group
(47% of the sample) ranges from 300 to 265 Ma, a Pan-African
age group includes three single grains (630–555 Ma), and the last
group is of two Jurassic grains (ca. 164 Ma). Both Grenvillian
and Permian–Triassic age groups show similar Th/U ratios >0.1,
which strongly suggest an igneous source for the zircon grains.
Sample Tec2 is dominated by euhedral colorless grains with
an aspect ratio of 4:1, with some subordinate pink subrounded
grains. From 151 analyses, 127 were used for the probability
density plot. The sample yielded five groups of zircon ages. The
oldest group is Mesoproterozoic (57% of all sample) with ages
Figure 11. Cathodoluminescence (CL)
images of detrital zircon in two samples
from the Chivillas Formation: (A) sam-
ple Ch2, showing typical magmatic zir-
con grains with oscillatory zoning from
Early Cretaceous and Permian magmat-
ic sources; and (B) sample Ch3, show-
ing magmatic zircon grains with oscil-
latory concentric zoning from Permian
age source, complex CL with cores and
rims in Proterozoic grains, and dark CL
for Ediacaran grains.
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14 Sierra-Rojas et al.
ranging from 1700 to 940 Ma. Next in abundance is a group of
Permian–Triassic zircon grains (28% of all sample) with age
range of 310–240 Ma. Other minor groups are late Carbonifer-
ous (7%) with age range 314–305 Ma and two Jurassic zircon
grains (192 ± 3 Ma and 176 ± 3 Ma). In some grains, depth-
profiling was used revealing Permian–Triassic rims with Grenvil-
lian cores, or Tonian rims (1000–950 Ma) with Mesoproterozoic
cores (ca. 1600–1200 Ma).
The sample Tec3 is dominated by subhedral to rounded pink
zircon grains, some of which are colorless, mostly with well-
developed concentric zoning (Fig. 13A), and size ranging from
80 to 150 µm. Of 487 analyses, 420 were used in the probabil-
ity density plot. The sample yielded five zircon age groups, one
Mesoproterozoic (38% of the sample) with age ranging from ca.
1300 to 950 Ma, one Permian–Triassic age group (58% of the
sample) with age range ca. 300–228 Ma, one Carboniferous age
group (3% of the sample) with age range ca. 338–310 Ma, one
Ordovician grain (458 ± 6 Ma), and three grains with Late Juras-
sic ages (ca. 163–155 Ma). The Jurassic and Permian–Triassic
age groups show a similar Th/U ratio >0.1 in all grains but two;
this feature, together with the concentric zoning in CL, suggests
an igneous source. The Grenville age group has more various
Th/U ratios. However, all the samples but two yielded Th/U >0.1.
Méndez Formation
Two samples of the Méndez Formation were analyzed (Fig.
12). One sample is from the northern area (Men1) on the road
from Tequila to Zongolica, and another sample (Men2) is from
the eastern area. Sample Men1 is dominated by relatively small
zircon grains (<100 µm), subrounded to rounded. Forty-six of the
51 grains passed the discordance criteria and are shown on the
probability density plot (Fig. 12). The sample yielded at least five
age groups from Mesoproterozoic to Upper Cretaceous (Table
2). The sample is dominated by a Proterozoic age group (55%
of the sample) that ranges 1800–900 Ma, followed by a group
(11% of the sample) of zircon grains that range 650–550 Ma,
a Cambrian–Ordovician group (11% of the sample), two single
grains of Devonian–Carboniferous age (375 ± 6 and 348 ± 13 Ma),
three grains of Permian–Triassic age (ca. 262–235 Ma), one
Jurassic grain (179 ± 7 Ma), and a group of Cretaceous ages (11%
of the sample). The maximum depositional age for the Méndez
Figure 12. Detrital zircon age histo-
grams and probability density plots
for all Upper Cretaceous to Paleocene
samples (Tecamalucan, Méndez, and
Velasco formations). Diagrams on the
right include all zircon grains for each
sample, whereas diagrams on the left are
for zircon ages younger than 350 Ma.
The ages inside the rectangles indicate
the absolute ages of the youngest grains;
in sample Vel2, the dotted lines and ages
indicate the components calculated by
a Gaussian deconvolution of the Creta-
ceous population.
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 15
Figure 13. Cathodoluminescence (CL)
images of selected detrital zircon grains
from the Tecamalucan, Méndez, and
Velasco formations: (A) sample Tec3,
showing typical magmatic zircon grains
with oscillatory zoning and homoge-
neous zircon grains, probably from a
metamorphic source; (B) sample Men2,
showing magmatic zircon grains with
concentric zoning from Proterozoic to
Paleocene age sources; and (C) sample
Vel2, with complex core and rim CL
pattern suggesting metamorphic cores
with low Th/U ratios and magmatic
rims; also, magmatic zircon grains with
concentric zoning.
Population 1Population 2Population 3Population 4Population 5
PaleoproterozoicGrenville Pan-African Ediacaran Megacrystic granitoids
>1450 Ma Ca. 1450–950 Ma Ca. 800–550 Ma Ca. 550–515 Ma Ca. 525–495 Ma
Laurentia basement
(Yavapai, Mazatzal);
Gondwanan basement
(Rio Negro–Juruena);
detrital zircons in
Acatlán Complex
Metamorphic and igneous
suites in Oaxacan
Complex; Acatlán and
Guichicovi complexes;
recycled sedimentary
orogenic rocks in
Acatlán Complex
Paleozoic sedimentary
rocks of Mixteco-
Oaxaca block with
sources in Laurentia;
Tiñú, Santiago,
Ixtlaltepec, and
Tecomate formations
Acatlán Complex
Population 6Population 7Population 8Population 9Population 10 Population 11
Carboniferous arc
Permian–Triassic Early-Middle Jurassic Late Jurassic Early Cretaceous Laramide arc
Ca. 350–320 Ma Ca. 310–240 Ma Ca. 194–164 Ma Ca. 164–145 Ma Ca. 145–120 Ma Ca. 110–60 Ma
Acatlán Complex;
Aserradero and La
Pezuña rhyolite,
Teziutlán massif
East Mexican arc
in Mixteco-Oaxaca
block; Chiapas
massif; Mixtequita
Jurassic continental
arc; northern
Mixtequita intrusive
rocks; Nazas arc; Ayú
Complex; Guerrero
terrane granitoids;
Diquiyú volcanics
Arperos basin;
plutonic rocks in
Guerrero and Baja
Guerrero terrane;
Arperos basin;
Zicapa-Xolapa arc;
arc related rocks
Sierra Madre del
Sur magmatism
and Puerto Vallarta
batholith; Northern
Chortis magmatic
Formation was determined by the youngest concordant zircon
grain of 73 ± 3 Ma. The Th/U ratios are scattered, ranging from
0.09 to 1.44; however, as above, the grains have Th/U ratios >0.1.
Zircon grains in sample Men2 are dominated by small
(<100 µm), euhedral, and colorless grains, which under CL are
mostly concentrically zoned (Fig. 13B). However, some frag-
mented, subrounded pink grains are also common. Of 116 analy-
ses, 80 were selected for age calculations. The sample yielded
a dominant zircon group of Proterozoic age (35% of the sam-
ple) with age range of 1400–950 Ma and six grains in the 2.0–
1.6 Ga range. A Pan-African age group (12% of the sample)
ranges 790–550 Ma. Ordovician–Silurian zircon grains define a
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16 Sierra-Rojas et al.
group (5%) that ranges from 485 to 430 Ma. A Permian– Triassic
age group (25% of the sample) ranges from 300 to 240 Ma, a
Jurassic group (8% of the sample) ranges between 195 and
150 Ma, an Aptian age group includes three grains ca. 122 Ma,
and, finally, a Late Cretaceous group ranges 103–75 Ma (3% of
the sample). A maximum depositional age for the Méndez shale
can be determined by the age of the youngest concordant zircon,
which is 75 ± 2 Ma. Some Th/U ratios of zircon in the sample are
relatively low (0.012–0.04), and they correspond to ages in the
248–240 Ma range. The same grains show a homogeneous rim
around an irregular core, which strongly suggests a metamorphic
zircon source ca. 250 Ma.
Velasco Formation
Three samples were collected from the Velasco Forma-
tion (Fig. 2), one in the northeastern sector (Vel1) and two near
Jalapa de Díaz (Vel2 and Vel3). In sample Vel1, most of the zir-
con grains are subhedral to rounded, usually pink colored, but
some are euhedral grains with an aspect ratio of ca. 4:1. From
96 analyses, 65 were selected for age calculations. The sample
yielded predominantly Mesoproterozoic ages (42% of the sam-
ple) ranging between 1440 and 950 Ma and two single grains
with ages of 2.7 Ga and 1.7 Ga. A population of Pan-African–age
zircon grains (15% of the sample) ranges from 800 to 520 Ma.
The sample also contains a single Ordovician grain with an age
of 469 ± 12 Ma and a Carboniferous–Triassic age group (25%
of the sample) with ages ranging 306–230 Ma. Middle to Late
Jurassic zircon grains (6% of the sample) display ages from 175
to 146 Ma. Cretaceous zircons include a Barremian grain with an
age of 127 ± 3 Ma and a Late Cretaceous group (7%) with age
range between 90 and 64 Ma (Fig. 12). The maximum deposi-
tion age calculated from the youngest concordant single grain is
64 ± 3 Ma. Th/U ratios of the zircon grains are almost all >0.1,
suggesting a magmatic source; however, a few grains in the age
range of ca. 1100–970 Ma have Th/U ratios <0.1.
Sample Vel2 is dominated by very fine (<100 µm) subhedral
to subrounded and fragmented zircon grains, colorless to pink,
with a variable an aspect ratio from 1:1 to 4:1. Different CL tex-
tures are found in the sample; most of the grains show oscillatory
zoning, which is typical of igneous sources, while other grains
have cores with Th/U ratios <0.1 suggesting a metamorphic
source (Fig. 13C). From 359 analyses, 259 were used for age
calculations (Fig. 12). Older zircon age groups are small when
compared with the dominant Cretaceous population. Mesopro-
terozoic grains with an age range of 1350–990 Ma are only 9%
of the sample; a minor Pan-African population (800–550 Ma)
includes 2% of the sample; the Permian–Triassic population with
ages between ca. 300 and 211 Ma represents only 7%. Few Juras-
sic grains (4%) with an age range from 197 to 146 Ma are also
present in the sample. The abundant Cretaceous zircon grains
comprise a Berriasian to Barremian population (5%) and a Bar-
remian to Albian population (40%). The probability density plots
show three relative maxima in the Barremian–Albian population
(Fig. 12). A Gaussian deconvolution was applied on the Barre-
mian–Albian population; the deconvolution yielded values of
106 Ma (22%), 116 Ma (49%), and 128 Ma (28%). The youngest
zircon population in the sample yielded ages from ca. 90 to 62
Ma. The maximum depositional age calculated by the youngest
concordant zircon grain is 62 ± 1 Ma.
Some grains are characterized by Aptian rims with igne-
ous oscillatory zoning and Th/U ratios >1; some of those grains
exhibit Early Cretaceous cores with homogeneous CL texture
and Th/U ratios <0.1, or Early Permian and Proterozoic cores
with oscillatory zoning and Th/U ratios >0.1 (Fig. 13C).
Sample Vel3 is composed of very fine grains (30–80 µm),
subhedral to subrounded, colorless, yellowish, and pink, with an
aspect ratio that varies from 3:1 to 5:1. The CL reveals oscilla-
tory zoning. From 60 analyses, 54 were used for age calcula-
tions. Six zircon age groups (Figs. 12 and 14) were identified.
The oldest population is Proterozoic (24% of the sample) with
ages ranging 1.8–0.95 Ga, with all Th/U ratios but one >0.1. A
Pan-African group (15% of the sample) yielded ages in the 800–
500 Ma range, a Permian–Triassic age group (20%) yielded ages
in the 285–208 Ma range, a Jurassic age group (13%) yielded
ages between 187 and 157 Ma, and a Lower Cretaceous popula-
tion (19%) yielded ages between 138 and 104 Ma. Finally, three
single grains yielded Late Cretaceous ages of ca. 92–88 Ma.
Sandstone Petrography and Provenance
Ternary tectonic discrimination diagrams based on sand-
stone compositions (Fig. 8) show that the Jaltepetongo, Chivillas,
Tecamalucan, and Velasco formations were derived from differ-
ent sediment sources, which can indicate that each unit tapped
a different source, or that there was a change in the dispersal
system through time. Metamorphic lithic grains of the Chivillas
Formation may have been derived from metasedimentary rocks
of the Oaxacan, Acatlán, and Ayú complexes (Ortega-Gutiérrez,
1978; Helbig et al., 2012), which are located west of the Chivil-
las basin (Fig. 3). Granitic sources for sediment of the Chivillas
and Jaltepetongo formations are inferred from K-feldspar with
micrographic texture, which are the most common mineral in
the high-grade metamorphic rocks from the Oaxacan Complex
(Keppie et al., 2003). Another possible sources of K-feldspar is
likely the granitic rocks that intrude the Acatlán and Oaxacan
complexes, such as the Cozahuico Granite (Fig. 15) in the north-
ern area, or the La Carbonera and Etla Granites in the southern
area (Ortega-Obregón et al., 2014). Less common felsitic lithic
grains and embayed quartz found in the Chivillas and Velasco
formation, were derived from a silicic volcanic source. The most
likely source in terms of abundance are the rhyolites of the Early
Cretaceous Taxco and Taxco Viejo units (Campa-Uranga and Iri-
ondo, 2004), followed by the rhyolites of the Oaxacan Complex
(Ortega-Obregon et al., 2014), the volcanic rocks in the Jurassic
strata of Las Lluvias Ignimbrite and the Tecomazuchil Formation
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 17
(Campa-Uranga and Iriondo, 2003; Campos-Madrigal et al.,
2013), and finally the rhyolitic tuffs in the Matzizi Formation
(Centeno-García et al., 2009). Basement exposure likely occurred
during the development of the extensional basin in Early Creta-
ceous time (Sierra-Rojas et al., 2016; Bedoya et al., 2017).
The sandstones of the Upper Cretaceous Tecamalucan For-
mation are derived from a mixture of crystalline basement rocks
with calcareous sedimentary strata. Abundant plagioclase, alkali
feldspar with symplectic texture, carbonate lithic fragments, and
felsitic volcanic lithic fragments indicate mixtures of igneous and
sedimentary sources in the northern study area (Fig. 2; Table 1).
It is not possible to trace the feldspar to a unique source; however,
the symplectic texture in the feldspar and the presence of tourma-
line suggest granulite-facies metamorphic rocks of the Oaxacan
Complex (Keppie et al., 2003) and granitic to gneissic sources,
such as the ones found intruding the Acatlán and Oaxacan com-
plexes (Ortega-Obregón et al., 2014). However, at the time of
deposition of the Tecamalucan Formation, those basement units
were likely partially covered by the Aptian–Albian carbonate
platforms, which were likely the sources of the abundant lime-
stone grains in both localities. Plagioclase and felsitic volcanic
grains were probably derived from the rhyolitic rocks from the
Jurassic Nazas or the Early Cretaceous arc, such as Las Lluvias
Ignimbrite, Taxco Viejo, and Taxco Schist (Campa-Uranga et al.,
2004; Campa-Uranga et al., 2012).
Detrital components of the Velasco Formation (Table 1;
Appendix DR1) show an abundance of volcanic lithics over the
sedimentary lithics. The sedimentary lithic grains, especially
chert and limestone, could have been derived from the adja-
cent fold belt. Some accessory minerals, such as chlorite and
titanite, were likely derived from mafic igneous and metamorphic
sources, such as the Chivillas Formation, of the fold belt hin-
terland. A characteristic feature of the samples from the Velasco
Formation is the presence of angular monocrystalline quartz and
felsic volcanic lithic grains. Those grains can be considered as
first-cycle grains, probably associated with contemporaneous
Paleogene volcanism. Sources of such volcanism are explained
in the zircon provenance section.
Figure 14. Probability density plots and age histograms for all samples in this study, grouped by formation. Data from the central and eastern
Acatlán Complex (Cosoltepec, Chazumba, Magdalena, Ayú units), after Talavera-Mendoza et al. (2005) and Helbig et al. (2012), are shown for
comparison. Shaded bands represent age populations of interpreted possible sources (Table 2). Numbers at the top of the plots correspond to the
populations in Table 2. (A) Probability density plots of zircon younger than 400 Ma. (B) Probability density plots for ages younger than 3 Ga.
All errors are 2s.
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18 Sierra-Rojas et al.
Zircon Populations and Provenance
Eleven different detrital zircon age groups were identified in
the Lower Cretaceous–Paleocene clastic rocks of the Cuicateco
terrane and Veracruz basin (Fig. 14; Table 2). The age groups
can be attributed to basement units widely distributed in south-
ern Mexico or to magmatic arc sources west of the fold belt. In
some samples (e.g., samples Ch3, Men2), there are grain ages
(2.7–1.5 Ga) that predate the Grenville orogeny. Those ages
(2.7–1.5 Ga) are rare in the Oaxaquia microcontinent (Weber and
Schulze, 2014). However, we cannot discard as possible sources
the North American craton provinces (Yavapai-Mazatzal prov-
inces), Amazonian (Rio Negro–Jurena), and peri-Gondwanan
terranes (Acatlán Complex), where those zircon age groups are
abundant (Anderson and Silver, 2005; Cordani et al., 2009; Tala-
vera-Mendoza et al., 2005). The Proterozoic detrital zircon age
groups are present in all samples and include detrital zircon ages
from ca. 1.4 to 0.95 Ga, typical of the igneous and metamor-
phic suites of the Oaxaquia microcontinent (Ortega-Gutierrez et
al., 1995). Most Precambrian zircon grains are Grenvillian (1.3–
1.0 Ga) in age, likely derived from the Oaxaquia microcontinent
(Fig. 1), a NW-trending block with similar lithologies and ages
that encompasses eastern Mexico (Ortega-Gutierrez et al., 1995).
The Oaxacan Complex (Keppie et al., 2003; Solari et al., 2003)
and the Guichicovi Complex (Weber and Köhler, 1999; Weber
and Hecht, 2003) represent the most extensive exposures of the
Figure 15. Map of southern Mexico showing the distribution of Proterozoic to Permian basement units and regional fault systems. U-Pb igneous
ages of Permian and Jurassic igneous rocks are indicated on the map (Murillo-Muñetón, 1994; Elías-Herrera and Ortega-Gutiérrez, 2002; Solari
et al., 2001; Helbig et al., 2012; Campos-Madrigal et al., 2013; Ortega-Obregón et al., 2014). Geological units were modified from Mexican
Geological Service 1:250,000 geologic maps.
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 19
Grenvillian crust in southern Mexico and are likely the primary
sources of Mesoproterozoic to earliest Neoproterozoic zircon
grains in Cuicateco terrane rocks. Metasedimentary rocks from
the Acatlán Complex (Talavera-Mendoza et al., 2005; Helbig et
al., 2012), the Paleozoic sedimentary cover of both the Acatlán
(Kirsch et al., 2012) and Oaxacan complexes (Gillis et al., 2005),
as well as the Jurassic cover (Campos-Madrigal et al., 2013; Mar-
tini et al., 2016) also contain abundant Grenvillian detrital zircon
grains; therefore, some grains may have been derived from these
nearby sources (Fig. 14).
A Neoproterozoic to Cambrian Pan-African (800–550 Ma)
detrital zircon age group (population 3 in Table 2) is present in
all samples except those of the Jaltepetongo Formation (Fig. 10).
That zircon age group has been observed in the Acatlán Com-
plex, mainly in rocks of the Cosoltepec, Magdalena, and Cha-
zumba formations (Fig. 14; Talavera-Mendoza et al., 2005), in
the Tecomate Formation (Kirsch et al., 2012), and in sedimentary
rocks derived therefrom. Zircon grains with ages from Ordovi-
cian to earliest Silurian (population 5 in Table 2) are present in
Upper Cretaceous and Paleocene samples of the Tecamalucan,
Méndez, and Velasco formations. In southern Mexico, grains of
that age range were most likely derived from a suite of mega-
crystic granitoids in the Acatlán Complex (Ortega-Gutiérrez et
al., 1999; Middleton et al., 2007; Vega-Granillo et al., 2007; Kep-
pie et al., 2008).
A prominent age group in Early Cretaceous–Paleocene sam-
ples includes Permian to Triassic (300–228 Ma) grains with Th/U
ratios that suggest an igneous source. On the Mixteco- Oaxaca
block, the series of Early Permian intrusive rocks (Totoltepec
pluton, Cozahuico granite, La Carbonera stock) with an age
range from 306 to 267 Ma (Elías-Herrera and Ortega-Gutiérrez,
2002; Solari et al., 2001; Kirsch et al., 2012) were likely sources
of zircon grains for the Chivillas, Tecamalucan, Méndez, and
Velasco formations (Fig. 14). La Mixtequita batholith, which
has a crystallization age of 254 ± 7 Ma (Murillo-Muñetón, 1994)
and which intrudes Grenvillian granulitic rocks of the Guichi-
covi Complex in the western part of the Maya block (Weber
and Köhler, 1999), is another possible source of Permian grains.
Uncommon Carboniferous zircon grain ages (350–310 Ma) are
present in samples of the Mendez, Tecamalucan, and Velasco for-
mations. Although those ages are present locally in southeastern
Mexico (e.g., Cosoltepec, Chazumba, Magdalena formations in
the Acatlán Complex, and Santa Rosa Group in the Chiapas Mas-
sif), their scarcity in the samples suggests they are likely to be
xenocrysts. In the Méndez Formation, a group of zircon grains
with an age of ca. 250 Ma has Th/U ratios and a CL images that
strongly suggest a metamorphic source. Along the Chiapas Mas-
sif, a series of orthogneisses yielded metamorphism ages between
258 and 250 Ma (Weber et al., 2005), which suggest a source for
Maastrichtian sediment to the south. We do not entirely discard
those grains as far traveled from the Acatlán Complex. However,
we discard the Chiapas Massif as a probable source of sediments
for the foreland basin because it was not exposed until at least
the Oligocene (Witt et al., 2012). The Th/U ratios of Permian
zircon grains of the Chivillas Formation (sample Ch3) indicate
they were derived from an igneous unit. The age population
(ca. 277 Ma) is unlike the ages of the bulk of the southern Mix-
tequita batholith (ca. 254 Ma), but rather it is similar to the plu-
tons that intrude the Oaxacan and Acatlán complexes west of the
study area (Fig. 15).
Five Jurassic grain ages are present in the samples of the
Tecamalucan Formation, ranging from 192 to 151 Ma. More
abundant Jurassic grain ages are present in the Méndez and
Velasco formations, with zircon age groups that range from
194 to 151 Ma and from 187 to 157 Ma, respectively (Fig. 12).
The Early-Late Jurassic zircon grains were likely derived from
Early to Middle Jurassic volcanic rocks (Fig. 15) common along
the Cordilleran arc in North America and the eastern margin of
Mexico (Centeno-García et al., 2011; Lawton and Molina-Garza,
2014; Martini and Ortega-Gutiérrez, 2016). In the Sierra Madre
Oriental, the volcanic rocks of the Nazas Formation and equiva-
lents with an age range from 193 to 175 Ma constitute a likely
source (Barboza-Gudiño et al., 2004; Barboza-Gudiño et al.,
2008; Lawton et al., 2012). Possible sources of Middle Juras-
sic zircon grains are the migmatites from the Ayú Complex with
migmatization ages between 171 and 160 Ma (Fig. 14; Helbig
et al., 2012), and a series of intermediate granitoids with ages of
164–157 Ma (Campos-Madrigal et al., 2013) hosted in Middle
Jurassic red beds. At the time of deposition of the Mendez and
Velasco Formations, the Guerrero terrane was already accreted
to mainland Mexico (Centeno-García et al., 2011; Martini et al.,
2009; Boschman et al., 2018), which makes the rocks from the
Zihuatanejo area a good fit for a hinterland source of Middle
Jurassic zircon grains.
Early Cretaceous zircon grains from samples of the Méndez
and Velasco formations were likely derived from the hinterland
of the Maastrichtian to Paleocene foreland basin. Lower Creta-
ceous volcano-plutonic complexes with an age range of 140–
123 Ma related to a continental-margin arc extend along the
western margin of Mexico from the Mixteco terrane into the
Chortís block (Sierra-Rojas and Molina-Garza, 2014; Sierra-
Rojas et al., 2016). Another plausible source of Early Cretaceous
zircon grains is the Guerrero terrane, an oceanic arc dominantly
intermediate in composition with sedimentary arc-related rocks,
which was accreted to mainland Mexico by the time of deposi-
tion of Méndez and Velasco formations (Fig. 1; Centeno-García
et al., 2008; Dickinson and Lawton, 2001; Busby, 2004; Busby et
al., 2006; Martini et al., 2011; Boschman et al., 2018).
Upper Cretaceous to Paleocene zircon grains (100–61 Ma)
are abundant in some samples of the Méndez and Velasco forma-
tions (Table 2; Figs. 12 and 14). Possible sources for those grains
are La Posta–type granitoids in Baja California, the Sierra Madre
del Sur igneous suites, or the northern Chortís block intrusive
units (Fig. 1). The eastern Peninsular Ranges in Baja California
or La Posta–type magmatism (Kimbrough et al., 2001) had an
age range between 98 and 90 Ma and extend through the Baja
Peninsula until the Cabo block (Fig. 1). The Sierra Madre del
Sur extends from Puerto Vallarta to Huatulco in western México
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20 Sierra-Rojas et al.
(Schaaf et al., 1995; Morán-Zenteno et al., 2007; Ducea et al.,
2004; Ferrari et al., 2014) and can be extended to the restored
Late Cretaceous position of the Chortís block (Pindell and Ken-
nan, 2009). Older ages in the Sierra Madre del Sur (110–85 Ma)
are present from Puerto Vallarta to Zihuatanejo (Fig. 1), associ-
ated with the Puerto Vallarta–Manzanillo batholith (Valencia et
al., 2013; Centeno-García et al., 2011; Ferrari et al., 2014, and
references therein); depositional ages contemporary with the
magmatism were found in volcano-sedimentary successions in
the same area near Zihuatanejo (Martini et al., 2009; Centeno-
García et al., 2011). Finally, the Late Cretaceous magmatic rocks
in the northern Chortís terrane (Fig. 1) with an age range of 93–
80 Ma (Rogers et al., 2007, and references therein; Ratschbacher
et al., 2009) are a plausible source of Late Cretaceous zircon
grains in the Mendez and Velasco formations.
The youngest probable sources in the Sierra Madre del Sur are
located toward the south, in the Guerrero-Morelos platform area,
where series of volcanic and volcaniclastic rocks were deposited in
a continental environment from ca. 68 to 57 Ma (Ortega-Gutiérrez,
1980; Cerca et al., 2007). Based on proximity, we consider that for
the Maastrichtian, the most probable sources are the ones located in
Zihuatanejo and the Guerrero-Morelos platform.
Paleogeography of Early Cretaceous Basins
Our environmental and provenance data indicate that the
marine Chivillas basin was located on the western shoulder of
the Gulf of Mexico extensional basin in southern Mexico during
the Early Cretaceous. Diverse mechanisms have been invoked to
explain this basin, including a pull-apart mechanism (Angeles-
Moreno, 2006), an onshore extension of the Gulf of Mexico
ridge-transform system (Mendoza-Rosales et al., 2010), and
back-arc basin associated with roll-back of the Farallon slab
(Delgado-Argote et al., 1992) or roll-back of the Arperos slab
(Coombs, 2016; Sierra-Rojas et al., 2016).
Lateral facies changes record a continental to deep-marine
transition from west to east in the Mixteco-Oaxaca block and
Cuicateco terrane (Figs. 3 and 16A; Sierra-Rojas et al., 2016).
The transition is recorded by deposits of alluvial fans, lacustrine
and fluvial beds in western localities (Atzompa and La Compañia
formations), deltaic shallow-marine deposits in central localities
(San Juan Raya Formation), and deep-marine turbiditic aprons
(Zapotitlán and Jaltepetongo formations) associated with pillow
lavas and mafic rocks (Chivillas Formation) in eastern localities.
In the Chivillas basin, deep-marine clastic deposition took place
in submarine fans by turbidity currents. More proximal facies
record thick-bedded turbidites with polymictic or oligomictic
conglomerates and structureless coarse-grained sandstones with
rip-up clasts, interbedded fine-grained sandstones and siltstones,
and, in some areas, thin dark-gray limestones. Some slumps and
soft-sediment deformation are also present in the proximal facies.
Those proximal facies are absent in central and southern locali-
ties, where the low sand/mud ratio and the thin-bedded turbidites
are indicative of more distal facies.
Southernmost samples (Ch5 and Ch6) came from medium-
to fine-grained sandstones of the Jaltepetongo Formation, the
lithofacies associations of which suggest deposition in dis-
tal deep-water fans, and the fossil record of which indicates a
depositional age older than the Chivillas Formation (Berriasian–
Barremian). The detrital zircon grains and sandstone composi-
tions of the samples indicate a granitic and metamorphic source
of Stenian–Tonian age, such as the Oaxacan Complex. That
implies that the sources that fed the submarine fans during the
lowermost Cretaceous in southern basin came from the southern
Oaxacan Complex in the west (Fig. 15).
The Chivillas samples FCH30 and FCH40 of Mendoza-
Rosales et al. (2010) and sample Ch2 of this work contain a
heterogeneous mix of many types of zircon grains. This zircon
diversity is not consistent with derivation solely from the Oaxa-
can Complex and associated Permian plutons. Importantly, the
presence of the 133–126 Ma population strongly suggests an
additional source in the coeval western arc (Fig. 16A; Sierra-
Rojas et al., 2016). The presence of Paleozoic zircons, especially
the Ordovician–Silurian population, suggests provenance in the
Acatlán Complex.
In the Hauterivian–early Aptian period, basins in the Mix-
teco-Oaxaca blocks experienced rapid extension, which led to
the transfer of high volumes of siliciclastic sediment from the
uplifted areas into the basin (Fig. 16A). Axial fluvial systems
were flowing from northwest to southeast and operated as the
sediment-transfer system from continental sources to deep basin
sinks (Sierra-Rojas et al., 2016), which may explain the hetero-
geneity in the samples.
Samples from the central Chivillas area (Ch1 and Ch3) show
detrital zircon spectra restricted to only three age populations,
a Mesoproterozoic population (1400–950), a Neoproterozoic to
Cambrian population (580–515 Ma), and a Permian–Triassic
population (300–250 Ma). A possible source of those popula-
tions is located in the central Mixteco terrane, where the Paleo-
zoic rocks (e.g., Tecomate Formation and Totoltepec pluton) in
the northeastern part of the Acatlán Complex exhibit similar zir-
con age distributions (Kirsch et al., 2012). However, the absence
of Jurassic, Ordovician, or Devonian zircon grains typical of
the Acatlán Complex makes that interpretation less likely. The
most plausible provenance for the central Chivillas samples is
the Oaxacan Complex, with its associated Paleozoic plutonic and
sedimentary rocks. The age of the Permian igneous rocks and the
absence of Jurassic zircon grains exclude the Guichicovi com-
plex and Mixtequita batholith as possible sources. The Ediacaran
grains are problematic because no basement unit of that age is
currently known in Mexico; therefore, their source likely lay in
the sedimentary Paleozoic units, such as the Tiñu, Santiago, or
Ixtlaltepec formations, which overlie the Oaxacan Complex and
do contain few Ediacaran zircon grains (Gillis et al., 2005).
Adjacent samples found in the central Chivillas area (Ch4
and Ch3; Fig. 2) exhibit a significant difference in their detrital
zircon ages (Fig. 10). One sample (Ch4) only displays Grenville
detrital zircon ages and a few Permian grains. Those populations
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 21
Figure 16. Schematic evolution of the southern Mexico backarc to foreland basins from Hauterivian to Paleocene time. (A) Early Creta-
ceous (Ki) extensional arc in the Pacific margin, opening of extensional basin on the Mixteco-Oaxaca block, and deposition of continental
to deep-marine deposits. (B) Accretion of the Guerrero terrane and closure of the Arperos basin in the west. Carbonate platforms were
built on structural highs along the Mixteco-Oaxaca basement and the Maya block in the Albian–Cenomanian; meanwhile, calcareous
basinal sediments were deposited in the Chivillas basin. (C) A shortening event affected the rocks in the western part of Mexico. The
Mexcala foredeep formed during the Cenomanian–Turonian and continued advancing to the east with the shortening. (D) Advance of the
contractional deformation to the east, and deposition of the pre-orogenic Tecamalucan formation. In the Cordoba Platform inner platform,
isolated lagoonal deposits were deposited (forebulge). (E and F) The Laramide arc was built west of the foreland basin from the Santonian
to Paleocene, allowing syntectonic magmatic products to be incorporated in the sediment-delivery systems. The foredeep of the Mexican
foreland was located in the Veracruz basin (Velasco Formation). The figure is not to scale.
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22 Sierra-Rojas et al.
are typical of sources from the Oaxacan Complex and associated
Permian plutons. A second sample (Ch3) shows a diverse detri-
tal zircon age signature from Grenville to Early Cretaceous (Fig.
10), typically derived from sources in the Acatlán Complex and
its sedimentary cover. That heterogeneity in detrital zircon signa-
tures in close samples can be explained either by deep-water sub-
marine fans with different feeder sources, or by different slivers
that were tectonically juxtaposed, one of them contemporaneous
with the Jaltepetongo Formation (Ch4).
Based on stratigraphic relations of Upper Jurassic and Lower
Cretaceous rocks, a tectonic event has been proposed to explain
the deposition of clastic successions during the Early Cretaceous
on the eastern margin of the Mixteco-Oaxaca block (Meneses-
Rocha et al., 1994). The opening of the Chivillas extensional
basin was likely related to the deposition of coarse-grained
clastic continental to marine deposits east of the Caltepec-
Tamazulapan fault system (Fig. 15), which include Barremian–
Aptian alluvial-fan deposits along the fault system (López-Ticha,
1985; Meneses-Rocha et al., 1994; Mendoza-Rosales, 2010).
A passive-margin environment developed along southern
Mexico from the Albian to Cenomanian, characterized by exten-
sive carbonate platforms and the absence of terrigenous deposits
(Figs. 3 and 16B). The Orizaba Formation, which constitutes the
Cordoba platform, is a succession of reefal limestones, bound-
stones with rudists and gastropods, sponges and corals, interbed-
ded with grainstones and packstones with oolites, bioclasts, and
miliolids. Those platforms were flooded during the Cenoma-
nian–Turonian anoxic event (Fig. 16C), resulting in deposition
of mudstone and dark-gray calcareous shale with abundant chert
nodules in a deep-marine and outer-platform environment with
terrigenous influence.
Foreland Basin from West to East
A shift from a carbonate passive-margin setting to syn-
tectonic deposition in a foreland basin took place during the
development of the Mexican orogen (Fitz-Díaz et al., 2018).
The hinterland of the Mexican orogen consists of series of
accreted volcano-plutonic complexes and diverse marine sedi-
ments deformed and thrust over the arc-basin systems along the
Mixteco-Oaxaca block. As the orogenic wedge advanced east-
ward, diachronous sedimentary basins developed adjacent to the
wedge (Figs. 16C–16F).
The oldest TuronianMaastrichtian deposits of the foreland
basin in southern Mexico correspond to the Mexcala Formation
(Fig. 3; Hernández-Romano et al., 1997; Perrillat et al., 2000).
Detrital zircon provenance analysis of the Mexcala Formation
indicates sediment sources in the Acatlán Complex, the Jurassic
Early Cretaceous volcano-plutonic complex of western Mexico,
and the Upper Cretaceous arc (Talavera-Mendoza et al., 2007).
In northern Cuicateco, deep-marine clastic deposition, char-
acterized by deep-marine debris flows and near-slope fan depos-
its, took place during the early stages of the foreland basin (Teca-
malucan Formation; Fig. 3). Lithic components of the sandstones
indicate erosion of the calcareous sedimentary cover, as well as
felsitic volcanic, granitic, and metamorphic rocks. The detrital
zircon signature of those samples (Tec1, Tec2, and Tec3) reveals
sources from the Mixteco-Oaxaca block, especially from the
northern area in the Acatlán Complex (Table 2; Fig. 14).
While the Tecamalucan Formation was being deposited in
deep-marine fans with provenance from the west, a carbonate
system in the east evolved from outer platform in the Turonian to
inner platform with isolated lagoons in the Santonian–Coniacian
(Guzmantla Formation; Ortuño-Arzate et al., 2003). We relate
this emersion and shallowing episodes with crustal response to
the flexural subsidence in the foredeep-forebulge system. Those
elevated areas were likely associated with relict paleogeographic
highs from the extensional phase in the Early Cretaceous (Figs.
16A–16D) and the elevated forebulge of the westernmost fore-
land basin (Ferket et al., 2010).
Compositional and geochronological data indicate that, as
the deformation progressed from the west, different sediment
sources were incorporated into the drainage basins in Maastrich-
tian to Paleocene time (Fig. 14). Moreover, an erosional uncon-
formity between the Santonian and Maastrichtian beds (Fig. 3)
has been reported all along the eastern fold-and-thrust belt, asso-
ciated with the encroachment of deformation onto the Veracruz
basin (Ortuño-Arzate et al., 2003). During this time, the Mén-
dez Formation was deposited in the foredeep of the contractional
basin in an open-marine environment, with some influence of
distal turbidites with a wide variety of source lithologies, such
as carbonate rocks of the fold belt and metamorphic and igneous
rocks of the hinterland and magmatic arc (Fig. 16E). Geochro-
nological and petrographic data indicate that the deep-water fans
deposited in the foredeep came from an extensive fluvial system.
That fluvial system was composed of transverse rivers with head-
waters in the magmatic arc, long systems traversing through the
fold belt and the exposed Mixteco-Oaxaca basement, and short
systems coming from the platform border.
Calculated maximum depositional ages of the Méndez For-
mation (ca. 75 Ma) constrained by the youngest zircon grains
are close to the paleontological ages reported in the literature
(Aguayo and Kanamori, 1976; Keller et al., 1997; Ifrim et al.,
2005). The provenance of those zircon grains can be traced to
the erosion of Upper Cretaceous volcanoclastic deposits in the
Sierra Madre del Sur (Tetelcingo Formation; Ortega-Gutiérrez,
1980; Cerca et al., 2007), or air fall from volcanoes in the western
Laramide arc (Figs. 15 and 16E).
Provenance data from Lower Cretaceous through Paleogene
strata in southern Mexico, between Puebla in the north and Oax-
aca in the south, record a shift from extensional to contractional
tectonics inboard of an active continental margin arc. The exten-
sional basins were formed in a composite back-arc and transten-
sional setting, for which sediments were sourced in the adjacent
elevated blocks and in the continental arc itself. In the late Aptian
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Early Cretaceous to Paleogene sandstone provenance of Cuicateco terrane 23
(ca. 100 Ma), the accretion of the Guerrero terrane took place.
After a period of quite tectonics during the Albian– Cenomanian,
the Late CretaceousPaleogene sediments were transported
from the hinterland, composed of the inverted Early Cretaceous
basins, to the foreland basin. Magmatic arc sources contributed
the youngest zircons by air fall to the Paleocene foreland basin.
Lower Cretaceous sandstones from the Chivillas and Jalte-
petongo formations contain zircon grains derived from Gren-
villian sources in the Oaxacan Complex and Permian–Triassic
grains from the igneous rocks that intrude the Oaxacan Complex.
The Chivillas Formation also contains some Cambrian grains
from the sedimentary cover of the complex. Only one sample
revealed sources that can be traced to the Acatlán Complex and
its sedimentary cover.
Upper Cretaceous to Paleogene sediments from the Veracruz
basin were derived from the southern part of the Mexican orogen.
Those sediments contain grains from the fold-and-thrust belt, the
hinterland, and the arc. The mixture of sources reveals the long-
distance transport of sediment from sources along the Pacific
margin of Mexico to the foreland basin.
Partial funding for this study was provided by the Cordille-
ran Program, a joint project between the Universidad Nacio-
nal Autónoma de México and Tectonic Analysis, Ltd., and by
Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) grant
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... The tectonic and/or erosional exhumation of continental and oceanic litho-tectonic units exposed in southern Mexico has significantly contributed to the sediment flux into the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent basins, beginning in the late Mesozoic (Winker and Buffler, 1988;Gray et al., 2021;Graham et al., 2020;Sierra-Rojas et al., 2020;Beltrán-Triviño et al., 2021). Although a number of individual studies have assessed the post-Jurassic uplift and exhumation history of certain areas in northern (Fitz-Díaz et al., 2014;Fitz-Díaz et al., 2018;Gray et al., 2001Gray et al., , 2021 and southern Mexico (Ducea et al., 2004;Witt et al., 2012;Abdullin et al., 2016;Gray et al., 2021;Villagómez andPindell, 2020a, 2020b;Hernández-Vergara et al., 2021), we still lack a synthesis explaining when and how the continental margin was exhumed and where the potential sink areas were located. ...
An extensive dataset of existing and new geo/thermochronological data from several areas in Southern Mexico constrains the tectonic history of the region, as well as various source-to-sink relationships and local burial histories. Our interpretation acknowledges that not all cooling/heating observed in the source areas is due to erosional exhumation/burial but, in some cases, due to advective heat transfer from magmatic sources, which potentially overprinted earlier events. In this work, we identified several areas that have been exhumed since the Early Cretaceous and potentially provided clastic material to the southern Gulf of Mexico area. We help to document how the Mexican (Laramide) Orogeny propagated eastwards and southwards from the Late Cretaceous through the early Oligocene. The first sediments reaching the Tampico–Misantla and Veracruz basins derived mostly from eroded Cretaceous carbonate material that covered the Sierra Madre Oriental, the Sierra de Juárez Complex and the Cuicateco belts, as well as foredeep/intra-orogenic basin deposits formerly covering them. Possibly by the end of the Mexican Orogeny, the clastic Jurassic and older crystalline basement rocks became exposed and became the main sources of quartz-rich clastic material to the most easterly foreland basins and Gulf of Mexico. Exposure was probably assisted by higher angle basement thrusts such as the Vista Hermosa/Valle Nacional faults. The Mixtequita and Guichicovi blocks have also provided an important source of quartz-rich and metamorphic lithic-rich material to the southern Veracruz Basin possibly since the Eocene. For most of the Cenozoic, the Chiapas and the Sureste basins were sourced from areas south of the Chiapas Massif, i.e., the North America–Caribbean plate boundary zone along today's Chiapas coastal plain. This plate boundary zone accommodated relative displacement between Mexico and the Chortis Block of the Caribbean Plate. Paleocene–middle Miocene sediments within the Chiapas Basin were at least partially sourced from i) metamorphic complexes in the northern Chortis Block; ii) the parautochthonous Chontal Complex, an oceanic-like basin sandwiched between Chortis and southern Mexico; iii) the elongating volcanic arc along southern Mexico and western Chortis; and iv) the Cretaceous and Jurassic sedimentary cover of the southern flank of the Chiapas Massif, The westward telescoping of southern Mexico onto the Cocos Plate in the wake of Chortis has produced flat slab subduction geometry and eastwardly-younging uplift of the Xolapa Belt (Oligo–Miocene) and the Chiapas Massif (late Miocene). It also caused reorganization of the drainage systems providing material to the Chiapas and Sureste basins. Our results highlight the importance of understanding relative block and plate boundary displacements in a dynamic hinterland and consider the role of major faults when interpreting source-to-sink relationships in the area. We describe the latter relationships for several geologic time intervals in which reservoir-prone sediments were delivered to the southern Gulf of Mexico. Finally, we integrate the source-to-sink history to provide an assessment of reservoir quality and hydrocarbon prospectivity in the region.
... We acknowledge that this may suggest that higher-grade Oaxacan metamorphic rocks were once positioned above the lower-grade Mazateco Schist rocks, but consider that such a pre-detachment relationship may have been caused by Paleozoic thrusting. The lack of any known deposition directly on the Cuicateco basement until the early Cretaceous(Graham et al. 2020;Sierra-Rojas et al. 2020) suggests the early Cretaceous creation of accommodation space (by detachment), in keeping with our extensional interpretation. Muscovite and hornblende Ar/ 39 Ar ages in the Teotitlán Migmatitic Complex range from 134 and 130 Ma(Fig. ...
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We present an updated, internally consistent synthesis of the Permo-Triassic assembly and Mesozoic evolution of the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, Florida-Bahamas, northern South America (Guiana margin and northern Andes) incorporating advances at regional, field and geochronological levels. The recently determined Bajocian age for salt deposition (using Sr87/Sr86 isotopes) is integrated by modifying the plate kinematic framework with a new Equatorial Atlantic reconstruction that expands the gap between the Americas by 180 km over many kinematic frameworks. NW-SE synrift lithospheric extension along western Florida-Bahamas is estimated at 40%, implying thinned continental crust beneath Great Bank, Bahamas, the conjugate for the Guianas Basin margin. In cordilleran Mexico (excluding the Yucatán Block), we propose two new means by which continental crust migrated into the “Colombian overlap position” of Pangean reconstructions. The first involved Jurassic-earliest Cretaceous sinistral displacement of the Oaxaca Block along a NW-SE “North Oaxaca Transfer” through or adjacent to the Cuicateco Belt. The second applies to the continental crust in eastern Mexico to the north of Cuicateco, a region we refer to as “peninsular Mexico”. There, most Mesozoic basement faults trend NW-SE, and the common occurrence of Permian mid-crustal anatectic basement directly beneath Mesozoic redbeds, salt and marine strata suggests extreme extension prior to the onset of sedimentation. Because these Mesozoic sedimentary sections typically sum to 3-8 km in thickness, the post-rift crust of peninsular Mexico probably averaged about 25 km in thickness before later orogenesis. Our reconstructions suggest this Triassic-Middle Jurassic extension approached 100%, beginning with overthickened Alleghanian (Permian) crust of about 50 km thickness in paleo-northern Mexico, and was accompanied by a significant sinistral component broadly distributed across the rift array. The updated model provides an exploration and kinematic framework for the entire region.
New U–Pb and “double dating” (U–Pb and U–Th)/He) age determinations on detrital zircons from Upper Cretaceous–Miocene formations greatly improve our understanding of both evolutionary and clastic provenance models for southern Mexico and the western Caribbean. Samples from the Méndez, Ocozocoautla, Angostura, Tenejapa, Soyaló, El Bosque, San Juan, Nanchital Shale, Nanchital Conglomerate, Huamelula, and Ixtapa units in the western Sierra de Chiapas, Mexico, consistently indicate a south-to-north transport of clastic detritus from orogenic headlands into the Chiapas Foldbelt Basin and, presumably, the Sureste Basin (Gulf of Mexico). However, this interpretation is partly guided by 1) palinspastic reconstructions of the Chortís Block and fault slices of the North America–Caribbean plate boundary that restore to paleo-positions south of Oaxaca and Chiapas states and western Guatemala, and 2) published fission track data that indicate the Chiapas Massif was not a significant sediment source or barrier until the late middle Miocene. In addition, zircon data on volcanic breccias (magmatic?) from cores of supposed Cretaceous and Paleogene levels of the Salina Cruz wells indicate that today’s Gulf of Tehuantepec forearc is likely the “western tail” of the Chortís Block and represents a displaced segment of the Guerrero Arc of western Mexico. Analyses of key thin sections and one heavy mineral sample complete the data set. We find that Pacific-origin Caribbean models provide the necessary inferences for meaningful interpretation of our data, and, conversely, that our data on the various depositional units through time iteratively help to support Pacific-origin models. For example, our data from Chiapas supports 1) arc collision to the south in the Maastrichtian (Greater Antilles), and 2) the existence of Paleogene orogenic highlands south of the Chiapas Massif, interpreted here as the paleo-North America–Caribbean plate boundary zone.
We studied the sedimentology, provenance, and paleomagnetism of Lower Cretaceous strata in nuclear southern Mexico deposited in continental, marginal and marine settings in order to better understand their tectonic setting and paleographic correlations. The studied units have been assigned to the Zicapa, Atzompa, Caltepec, Xonamanca, and Jaltepetongo formations, which are interpreted as an eastward-deepening paleogeography (in present day coordinates) deposited between Valanginian and Aptian time in a system of extensional basins contemporaneous with arc magmatism. Provenance interpreted from sandstone petrology, conglomerate clast counts, and detrital zircon U–Pb geochronology indicates that these successions consist of polymictic conglomerate, quartz-lithic metamorphoclastic and feldspathic-quartz lithic volcaniclastic sandstone, and mudstone. These were sourced from the underlying Precambrian and Paleozoic basement rocks, as well as from proximal suites of mafic to acid Jurassic (∼182-145 Ma), and Cretaceous volcanic rocks (∼140-123 Ma). The remanent magnetization in the Atzompa and Caltepec formations is multivectorial, and the characteristic remanent magnetization resides in hematite. For the Atzompa the grand mean is Dec = 335.3° and Inc = 25.4° (k = 15.4, α95 = 12.7°; N = 10 accepted sites). For the Caltepec the grand mean is Dec = 354.3°, Inc = 27.9° (k = 29.15, α95 = 6.1°, N = 20 accepted sites). Magnetizations in both units predate folding and pass reversal tests. For the uppermost Zicapa the magnetization is nearly univectorial and resides in a soft magnetic phase; the grand mean is D = 275.2°, I = 36.0° (k = 34.4, α95 = 10.1°, N = 7 accepted sites). For the Caltepec and Atzompa formations, I/E corrected directions indicate a paleolatitude of ∼20° to 23°N which is indistinguishable from that expected assuming stability with respect to the North America craton (∼24°), implying only minor tectonic motions since Early Cretaceous deposition, and demonstrating that the present distribution of units studied resembles their paleographic relations. The magnetostratigraphy of these units can be correlated with some confidence to the M10-M0r sequence of the geomagnetic polarity time scale, suggesting that the formations record late Valanginian and early Aptian marine transgressions that might correlate with global eustatic curves. The temporal and paleogeographic distribution of magmatism in southern Mexico is consistent with the presence of a continental arc formed by eastward subduction under the North American plate continuously from Early Jurassic to Aptian time, and extension in a back-arc setting during the Hauterivian-Barremian driven by slab rollback. We assign the system of extensional basins to the “southlands rift”, a short-lived event that predates amalgamation of oceanic terranes in the west and Albian carbonate platform development.
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This volume furthers our understanding of key basins in central and southern Mexico, and establishes links to exhumed sediment source areas in a plausible paleogeographic framework. Authors present new data and models on the relations between Mexican terranes and the assembly and breakup of western equatorial Pangea, plate-tectonic and terrane reconstructions, uplift and exhumation of source areas, the influence of magmatism on sedimentary systems, and the provenance and delivery of sediment to Mesozoic and Cenozoic basins. Additionally, authors establish relationships between basement regions (sediment source) in the areas that supplied sediment to Mesozoic rift basins, Late Cretaceous foreland systems, and Cenozoic basins developed in response to Cordilleran events.
This volume furthers our understanding of key basins in central and southern Mexico, and establishes links to exhumed sediment source areas in a plausible paleogeographic framework. Authors present new data and models on the relations between Mexican terranes and the assembly and breakup of western equatorial Pangea, plate-tectonic and terrane reconstructions, uplift and exhumation of source areas, the influence of magmatism on sedimentary systems, and the provenance and delivery of sediment to Mesozoic and Cenozoic basins. Additionally, authors establish relationships between basement regions (sediment source) in the areas that supplied sediment to Mesozoic rift basins, Late Cretaceous foreland systems, and Cenozoic basins developed in response to Cordilleran events.
A comprehensive correlation chart of Pennsylvanian–Eocene stratigraphic units in Mexico, adjoining parts of Arizona, New Mexico, south Texas, and Utah, as well as Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and Colombia, summarizes existing published data regarding ages of sedimentary strata and some igneous rocks. These data incorporate new age interpretations derived from U-Pb detrital zircon maximum depositional ages and igneous dates that were not available as recently as 2000, and the chart complements previous compilations. Although the tectonic and sedimentary history of Mexico and Central America remains debated, we summarize the tectonosedimentary history in 10 genetic phases, developed primarily on the basis of stratigraphic evidence presented here from Mexico and summarized from published literature. These phases include: (1) Gondwanan continental-margin arc and closure of Rheic Ocean, ca. 344–280 Ma; (2) Permian–Triassic arc magmatism, ca. 273–245 Ma; (3) prerift thermal doming of Pangea and development of Pacific margin submarine fans, ca. 245–202 Ma; (4) Gulf of Mexico rifting and extensional Pacific margin continental arc, ca. 200–167 Ma; (5) salt deposition in the Gulf of Mexico basin, ca. 169–166? Ma; (6) widespread onshore extension and rifting, ca. 160–145 Ma; (7) arc and back-arc extension, and carbonate platform and basin development (ca. 145–116 Ma); (8) carbonate platform and basin development and oceanic-arc collision in Mexico, ca. 116–100 Ma; (9) early development of the Mexican orogen in Mexico and Sevier orogen in the western United States, ca. 100–78 Ma; and (10) late development of the Mexican orogen in Mexico and Laramide orogeny in the southwestern United States, ca. 77–48 Ma.
We present the first fission‐track results from the Grenvillian Oaxacan Complex, southern Mexico. Time–temperature modeling of the data indicate that two significant Mesozoic cooling episodes are recorded in the Oaxacan Complex and these are interpreted as resulting from exhumation. The older cooling event took place from the Late Triassic to Middle Jurassic and is possible linked to the break‐up of Pangea (including the initial opening of the Gulf of Mexico during the Jurassic). The younger exhumation period in the Early Cretaceous is contemporaneous with the final stages of rifting of the Gulf of Mexico. Key stratigraphic records also provide independent evidence for these exhumation episodes. In our view, both Mesozoic rapid exhumation events were controlled by the activity of the Caltepec Fault Zone and the Oaxaca Fault. Our data suggest that both these large fault systems have remained active since, at least, the Late Triassic.
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The North American Cordillera has been shaped by a long history of accretion of arcs and other buoyant crustal fragments to the western margin of the North American plate since early Mesozoic time. The southernmost accreted terrane is the Guerrero terrane of southwestern Mexico, a latest Jurassic-Cretaceous volcanic arc built on a Triassic accretionary prism. Interpretations of the origin of the Guerrero terrane vary: Some authors consider it a far-traveled, exotic intra-oceanic island arc, while others view it as the (par)autochthonous, extended North American continental margin. We present new paleomagnetic and U-Pb zircon data from Lower Cretaceous sedimentary rocks of the Guerrero terrane. These data show that the Guerrero terrane has a latitudinal plate-motion history equal to that of the North America plate, both before and after accretion. This confirms paleogeographic models in which the Guerrero arc successions formed on North American crust that rifted away from the Mexican mainland by approximately east-west opening of a back-arc basin above an eastward-dipping subduction zone. Additionally, it renders alternative paleogeographical models in which the Guerrero terrane is considered to be exotic to the North American continent unlikely. The phase of back-arc spreading resulted in the short-lived existence of an additional "Guerrero" tectonic plate between the North American and Farallon plates and, upon closure of the back-arc basin, the growth of the North American continent.
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The structural evolution that accompanied the breakup of Pangea during Jurassic time has been constrained in Mexico only at the regional scale on the basis of global plate tectonics and geometric considerations. According to available regional-scale reconstructions, the Jurassic tectonic evolution of Mexico was characterized by: (1) anticlockwise rotation of the Yucatán block along NNW-trending dextral faults and (2) sinistral block motions along W- to WNW-trending faults, which are geometrically needed to restore southern and central Mexico to the northwest of its present position during early Mesozoic time and avoid the overlap between North and South America in the reconstruction of Pangea. Reports of W- to WNW-trending sinistral faults that were active in Mexico during Jurassic time are presently few, and the existence, extension, and age of some of these structures have been questioned by many authors. In this work, we present the provenance analysis from a Jurassic clastic succession deposited within the Otlaltepec Basin in southern Mexico. Wholerock sandstone petrography integrated with chemical analysis of detrital-garnet and U-Pb detrital-zircon geochronology documents that the analyzed stratigraphic record was deposited during rapid exhumation of the Totoltepec pluton along the Matanza fault, which is a W-trending sinistral normal fault that extends along the southern boundary of the Otlaltepec Basin. U-Pb zircon ages and biostratigraphic data bracket the age of the Matanza fault between 163.5 ± 1 and 167.5 ± 4 Ma. This indicates that the Matanza fault was involved in the crustal attenuation that accompanied the breakup of Pangea and that sinistral motion of continental blocks along W-trending structures was taking place in southern Mexico as predicted by global plate tectonic reconstructions.
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Lower Cretaceous depositional systems of southwestern Oaxaquia, in south-central Mexico, were influenced by initiation of a continental arc on mainland Mexico and subsequent accretion of the Guerrero composite arc terrane to mainland Mexico. The Atzompa Formation, defined herein, which crops out in the Sierra de Tentzo, constitutes a succession of conglomerate, sandstone, siltstone, and limestone with Early Cretaceous fauna and detrital zircon maximum depositional ages that range 126–123 Ma (late Barremian to early Aptian). The lower part of the Atzompa records a transition from alluvial to deep lacustrine depositional environments, suggesting the early stages of an extensional basin; overlying deposits of anabranching axial fluvial systems that flowed to the NE–SE accumulated after a period of rapid subsidence in the Tentzo basin, also formerly undescribed. Fluvial facies grade up-section to tidal deposits overlain in turn by a carbonate ramp succession that contains late Barremian to early Aptian fossils. The ramp deposits of the uppermost Atzompa Formation are overlain on a sharp contact by basinal carbonates of early Albian age. The Tentzo basin, formed due to crustal extension of the overriding plate in a backarc setting, was characterized by very high rates of sedimentation (3.6 mm/yr) during the early stages of basin formation (rift initiation and rift climax), and slower rates during the development of tidal systems and the carbonate ramp (post-rift stage). Regional and local subsidence took place in the backarc region of the Zicapa magmatic arc, which was established in the western margin of Mexico by Hauterivian time. Abrupt deepening following Atzompa Formation deposition is attributed to flexural subsidence related to collision of the Guerrero composite volcanic terrane with the western margin of Mexico. Following late Aptian accretion of the Guerrero terrane to Oaxaquia, the carbonate basin eventually shallowed to become a carbonate platform that faced the Gulf of Mexico.
The Mexican orogen is the expression in Mexico of the Cordilleran orogenic system. The orogen extends the length of Mexico, a distance of 2000 km from the state of Sonora in the northwest to the state of Oaxaca in the south. The Mexican orogen consists of (1) a western hinterland of accreted oceanic basinal rocks and magmatic arc rocks generally known as the Guerrero volcanic superterrane, (2) a foreland orogenic wedge, commonly termed the Mexican fold and thrust belt (MFTB), composed of imbricated and folded Upper Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous carbonate rocks and Upper Cretaceous foreland-basin strata, and (3) an assemblage of variably folded and inverted Late Cretaceous to Eocene foreland basins that lie northeast and east of the MFTB. The Mexican orogen encompasses the entire country, spanning several physiographic provinces and deformational domains that display both thin-skinned and thick-skinned structural styles determined by inherited crustal structure and contrasting pre-kinematic sedimentary sections. The orogen contains kinematic characteristics of both the Sevier and Laramide orogens in the United States (U.S.), and deformation in the Mexican orogen spanned the deformational history of those U.S. orogens. The overall trend of the Mexican orogen is NW-SE, although it displays local trend variations. At presently exposed levels, the orogen consists of folded and reverse-faulted Mesozoic-Eocene strata. Lower Cretaceous strata of the deformed foreland are dominated by carbonate rocks, whereas time-equivalent strata in the hinterland consist of deformed plutons belonging to one or more magmatic arcs, as well as turbidites, pillow lavas and altered mafic rocks deposited in an offshore basin prior to consolidation of fringing arc systems to mainland Mexico. Upper Cretaceous syntectonic strata of the foreland orogenic wedge constitute siliciclastic turbidite successions that grade eastward to carbonate pelagites of the distal foreland basin, which was starved of siliciclastic sediment input. Uppermost Cretaceous and Paleogene strata of the foreland basin constitute a shelfal, deltaic and coastal plain fluvial succession in northeastern Mexico and a succession of turbidites in the Tampico-Misantla basin east of the MFTB.