versão impressa ISSN 1026-8774
Rev. mex. cienc. geol v.23 n.1 México 2006
Stratigraphy and structure of the Altar basin of NW Sonora: Implications for the history of the Colorado River delta and the Salton trough
Estratigrafía y estructura de la cuenca de Altar del NW de Sonora: implicaciones para la historia del delta del Río Colorado y de la cuenca Salton
Martín Pacheco1, Arturo MartínBarajas1*, Wilfred Elders2, Juan Manuel EspinosaCardeña1, Javier Helenes1, and Alberto Segura3
1 División de Ciencias de la Tierra, CICESE, Km 107 Carr. TijuanaEnsenada, Ensenada, Baja California, México.
2 Department of Earth Sciences, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.
3 Activo Regional de Exploración, Región Norte, PEMEX, Poza Rica, Veracruz, México. email@example.com
Manuscript received: July 13, 2005
Corrected manuscript received: November 17, 2005
Manuscript accepted: December 13, 2005
The Altar basin in northwestern Sonora, Mexico, is a subsidiary basin forming a now inactive part of the Colorado River delta. Its sedimentary record illustrates how the delta prograded in the last 45 Ma overa late Miocene, structurally distinct, marine basin at the northern end of the Gulf of California. Our interpretation of outcrop data, and data from seven exploratory wells, six analog seismic lines of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), and magnetic and gravity surveys from various sources indicates the existence of three sedimentary sequences, A, B, and C, which can be correlated at regional scale and have a thickness >5 km at the basin depocenter. The lower sedimentary sequence A is a shale unit representing open marine conditions (outer neritic). It grades into a thick sequence of interstratified mudstone, siltstone, and sandstone (sequence B), which grades in turn into poorly consolidated sand (sequence C). Extensive outcrops of a sandy, cut and fill succession exposed along the coast of Sonora are consistent with sequences B and C being the subaqueous and the subaereal parts of the delta, respectively. A contact at the base of the sequence A, where premarine continental deposits are missing, and where the marine sequence overlies crystalline basement, is interpreted as tectonic transport along a toptothenorihwest detachment fault. The Altar basin became inactive as result of the westward shift in the locus of tectonic activity from the Altar fault to the Cerro Prieto fault, coupled with realignments in the course of the Colorado River during Pleistocene time.
Key words: stratigraphy, rifting, Colorado River delta, Altar basin, Gulf of California.
El Desierto de Altar en el noroeste de Sonora, contiene una cuenca subsidiaria ubicada en la parte inactiva del delta del Rio Colorado. El registro sedimentario ilustra cómo el delta progradó sobre una cuenca marina estructuralmente independiente del Mioceno tardío, hacia la terminación norte del Golfo de California. La interpretación de datos de afloramientos, datos de siete pozos exploratorios y seis líneas sísmicas analógicas de Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), además de datos magnéticos y gravimétricos compilados de diversas fuentes, indican la existencia de tres secuencias sedimentarias, A, B y C, con más de 5 km de espesor y con una distribución de escala regional. La secuencia inferior (secuencia A) es una unidad de lutita marina de ambiente nerítico externo. Esta unidad grada a una potente secuencia de lodolita, limolita y arenisca (secuencia B), la cual a su vez grada a una secuencia de arena poco consolidada (secuencia C). Las secuencias B y C se interpretan como parte del sistema submarino y subaéreo, respectivamente, que progradó hacia la cuenca marina. Afloramientos de una secuencia arenosa de corte y relleno, interpretada como depósitos fluviodeltaicos y expuesta a lo largo de la costa de Sonora, son consistentes con una interpretación en donde la secuencia C forma parte de la planicie fluvial del Río Colorado. El contacto discordante de la base de la secuencia A sobre el basamento cristalino y la ausencia de depósitos premarinos se interpreta como el resultado del transporte tectónico a lo largo de una falla de despegue con transporte de la placa superior hacia el nornoroeste. La subsidencia en la cuenca de Altar cesó debido al cambio en la localización de la actividad tectónica de la falla Altar a la falla Cerro Prieto, así como al cambio en el cauce del Río Colorado hacia el Valle de Mexicali durante el Pleistoceno.
Palabras clave: estratigrafía, rifting, delta del Río Colorado, Cuenca de Altar, Golfo de California.
The Colorado River delta largely fills the depression known as the Salton trough, comprising the Imperial Valley, in Southern California, and the Mexicali Valley, in northern Baja California (Figure 1). The trough is traversed by active faults associated with the southern San Andreas fault system and the Gulf of California extensional province, and so the Colorado delta is somewhat unique among the world's major deltas inbeing structurally confined and lying across a maj or plate boundary between the Pacific and North American plates (Figure 1) (Elders, et al., 1972; Lonsdale, 1989). The delta also contains a record of the erosion of its source in the Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau in Arizona (Winker and Kidwell, 1996, and references therein; Elders et al, 2001; Hunt and Elders, 2001). However, to date, no synthesis of the geological structure and history of the whole delta had been possible because some areas are still poorly known. Therefore, we used data from onshore wells and seismic reflection profiles from PEMEX (national petroleum company of Mexico), and from magnetic and gravity surveys, to gain insight into the sedimentation and structure associated with this transform fault plate margin and its relationship to the geological history of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River (Elders et al., 2003; EspinosaCardeña and Elders, 2003).
The Altar basin in northwestern Sonora shares a common history with other basins within the trough, and therefore exemplifies basin evolution in this tectonic environment. Each of these basins has experienced the effects of three main geological events: 1) an initial period of extension and subsidence; 2) an intermediate stage of marine sedimentation; and 3) a later stage of basin filling, largely dominated by the growth of the Colorado River delta, and to a lesser extent by alluvial deposits from the basin margin. Where age constraints for these three geologic events exist, the onset and end of this sequence differs from basin to basin, depending on its position relative to major depocenters and on the configuration of the delta complex. The construction of the Colorado River delta isolated the Altar basin and the northern gulf from basins located to the north and west within the Salton trough. Also, in the northcentral part of the trough, the growth of the delta producedlacustrine environments that were periodically flooded by discharges of the Colorado River (Dibblee, 1984; Winker and Kidwell, 1996).
Besides sharing a complex structural control, the individual basins also share an early stage dominated by marine deposits, framed by basinmargin alluvial deposits, which predated rapid deltaic progradation into the marine basin. However, marine conditions may have persisted on both flanks of the delta because the rift margins continued to widen and subside. The Altar basin, east of the active modern delta (Figure 1), is a good example of an abandoned basin, whereas the Laguna Salada to the west is a good example of a still active basin (Dorsey and MartínBarajas, 1999; MartínBarajas et al, 2001), although both are the result of changes in the locus of tectonic deformation. On the Sonoran side of the gulf, less is known about the timing of major subsidence and the stratigraphic record produced by the three major geological processes of transtensional tectonics, protogulf marine sedimentation and deltaic progradation.
The Altar basin covers an area between San Luis Rio Colorado and Bahía Adair in northwestern Sonora (Figure 2). It is assumed that this area was once part of the delta complex, although the surface of the Altar basin is now above the level susceptible to flooding by the Colorado River and is an extensive eolian dune field. Until now, no stratigraphic data had been published to interpret the nature of the basin fill, inferred to be at 5 km depth (Sumner, 1972).
Exploratory seismic reflection surveys and drilling for hydrocarbons and geothermal resources have produced a large amount of data, which for many years remained unpublished, apart from a few preliminary reports (PEMEX, 1985; Guzman, 1981). In this paper, we integrate data from the Altar basin that include seven well logs and six analog seismic lines (Figure 2). Additionally, we use the gravity and magnetic anomalies to interpret the structure of the Altar basin. We also studied the sedimentology of outcrops along the western margin of the Altar basin (Figure 2) to gain insight of the sedimentary environments for the uppermost part of sequence. Then, we contrast our model of the structure and stratigraphy of Altar basin to other cogenetic basins located to the west and northwest in the Salton trough, and finally, we discuss the tectonic implications of our results. We first present a summary of the tectonic and sedimentary background, which is necessary to understand the conceptual model proposed here.
TECTONIC AND SEDIMENTARY BACKGROUND
Onset of extension in the northern Gulf of California Extensional Province
Major pulses of Cenozoic extension in northern Sonora include development of detachment faults and metamorphic core complexes in lateOligocene to middleMiocene times (Nourse et al, 1994). Continental basins in central Sonora are capped with middleMiocene basaltic flows (McDowell et al, 1997). No time constraint for the onset of extension has been reported for the area west of Caborca, nor in the Altar Desert (Figure 1). However, the northwest trending Basin and Range physiography (Figure 1) suggests that this area has undergone a large amount of extension similar to that documented in northern Sonora and southwestern Arizona.
In southwestern Arizona, a pulse of extension that has been named "lateMiocene blockfaulting episode" (Eberly and Stanley, 1978), produced Basin and Range structures and thick continental and lacustrine deposits with local marine intervals in the Yuma basin (Figure 1) between 13 and >10.5 Ma (Eberly and Stanley, 1978). This is consistent with the post17 Ma age for widespread normal faulting in the Yuma area proposed by Spencer et al. (1995). The age of the Altar basin is not well constrained, but, owing to its proximity to the Yuma area, we consider a late to middleMiocene age as the most likely time for the onset of extension in the basin.
In northern Baja California, the onset of Miocene extension is constrained by faults that cut arcrelated volcanic rocks dated at approximately 16 Ma in the range front of Sierra Juárez (Lee et al, 1996; L. Forsythe, unpublished ages). In the southern end of Laguna Salada, trachyandesite lava flows from Sierra Las Tinajas were emplaced at 10.5 Ma, and they overlie three continuous, welded to unwelded tuffs dated at 12 Ma (MendozaBorunda et al., 1998). These lava flows and tuffs are cut by a series of east and westdipping normal and oblique faults (MendozaBorunda et al., 1995, 1998) and provide maximum age for the onset of extension along the Main Gulf Escarpment in Baja California. Additionally, exhumation ages of crystalline rocks on Sierra El Mayor at the western edge of the delta plain constrain the early uplift of this intrarift crystalline block between approximately 15 and 10 Ma beneath a detachment fault (Axen et al, 2000).
In the southwestern Salton trough, an early to middleMiocene period of continental sedimentation occurred during the emplacement of arcrelated lava flows of the Alverson Volcanic unit (2214 Ma) (Kerr, 1984). This early phase of weak extension preceded a lateMiocene phase of highmagnitude extension and riftbasin development along a toptotheeast detachment fault system (Axen and Fletcher, 1998; Winker and Kidwell, 2002). This detachment system changes polarity to the south in the Laguna Salada basin (Axen, 1995), and both detachments were coeval with strikeslip faults of the San Andreas system (Axen et al., 1999).
In summary, onset of extension in the area now occupied by the Altar basin may have occurred sometime after 16 Ma, which is suggested by field data on both rifted margins of this basin. However, little evidence exists for the timing of strikeslip motion transference into the northernmost part of the gulf, and of full establishment of modern wrench tectonics along the Cerro Prieto fault zone (c.f., Stock and Hodges, 1989). Lowangle normal faults andtranstensional faults may have coexisted in the western Salton trough and the Laguna Salada basin (Axen and Fletcher, 1998; Axen et al, 1999). The Altar basin thus lies between two detachment fault systems of distinctly different age: (1) the lateMiocene Salton trough (and Laguna Salada) detachment to the west, and (2) an older detachment system in central Sonora and southwesternArizona (Eberly and Stanley, 1978; Nourse et al, 1994; Spencer et al., 1995).
The protoGulf of California
The concept of a protogulf was first used by Karig and Jenski (1972) to refer to the early period of extension in the Gulf of California, an analog to other "volcanotectonic rift zones associated with an active trencharc system". Subsequently, the term protogulf has been used indiscriminately as a synonym for the presence of early basins and marine incursion in the gulf area (Gastil et al, 1975; Stock and Hodges, 1989), and to name the early period of orthogonal extension and basin development (Dokka and Merriam, 1982; Henry and ArandaGómez, 2000; RoldanQuintana et al., 2004). We use the term protogulf extension, as defined by Henry and ArandaGómez (2000), to name the extensional event that affected the entire Gulf Extensional Province (GEP) from 12 to 6 Ma. This event is the result of the partitioning of strain in strikeslip faults in the Pacific margins offshore Baja California and extensional faults within the GEP (c.f., Stock and Hodges, 1989). The upper limit for the protogulf stage is placed at 76 Ma, when the plate boundary became localized in the gulf area and the modern transform fault system developed (Curray and Moore, 1984; Lonsdale, 1989; Oskine et al. , 2001).
A middleMiocene age for the protogulf marine basins at Isla Tiburón was suggested by Gastil and Krumennacher (1977) and Gastil et al (1999). However, Oskinand Stock (2003) determined a younger age for the marine section in Isla Tiburón (<6.2 Ma), and proposed that the marine incursion in the northern Gulf of California occurred after 7 Ma, when the boundary between the Pacific and North American plates moved fully into the gulf region. This is consistent with published ages of the oldest marine deposits cropping out in the northern Gulf of California and Salton trough areas as being younger than 7.4 Ma (Quin and Cronin, 1984; Dean, 1996; McDougall et al, 1999; MartínBarajas et al, 2001). Nevertheless, the possibility of an older age for the first marine incursion cannot be completely ruled out. Paleontological evidence of reworked microfossils of middleMiocene age identified in some localities with lateMiocene to Pliocene marine sequences, and discrepancies in chronological distribution of key microfossil species (J. Helenes, A.L Carreño, unpublished data; LozanoRomen, 1975; Gastil et al, 1999; Helenes and Carreño, 1999; DelgadoArgote et al, 2000; Kris McDougall, personal communication) maintain the argument for a somewhat older marine incursion in the northern gulf region. Additionally, ongoing biostratigraphic studies of cutting samples from a PEMEX well in the upper Tiburón basin, indicate the presence of middleMiocene marine microfossils at depth (Helenes et al, 2005).
The delta of the Colorado River
Field studies in the western Salton trough and NE Baja California indicate that PliocenePleistocene fluviodeltaic deposits from the Colorado River prograded over lateMiocene to earlyPliocene marine deposits (Johnson et al, 1983;Dibblee, 1984; Winker and Kidwell, 1986;Dorsey and MartínBarajas, 1999; MartínBarajas et al, 2001). The change from marine to fluviodeltaic environments was induced by the entry of the Colorado River into the northern gulf. The establishment of an integrated Colorado River occurred either by headward erosion (Lucchita et al., 2001) or by lake overflow near Lake Mead (Spencer and Pearthree, 2001; Meek and Douglass, 2001); the course of the Colorado River below Grand Wash and the site of the Hoover Dam was established post 6 Ma and pre 4.8 to 4.3 Ma (Howard and Bohannon, 2001). This age interval marks the time when the upper Colorado River integrated its course to that of the lower Colorado, so drainage from the Rocky Mountains reached the Gulf of California and dramatically increased the sediment supply and the growth rate of the delta (Johnson et al, 1983; Winker and Kidwell, 1986). However, the position and extent of the delta complex in earlyPliocene time is poorly constrained because of the complexities produced by the tectonic activity. Early Colorado River sediments recognized within the Wind Cave Member of the Latrania Formation, in the southwestern Salton trough, include a >200 mthick submarine fan turbidite sequence dated at the transition between late Miocene and early Pliocene (Winker and Kidwell, 1996; Dorsey et al, 2005). This age constraint in the Salton trough can be extrapolated to the Altar basin because its depocenter was closer to the Split Mountain area in earlyPliocene time. We can infer 175 to 200 km of tectonic restoration assuming that most of this displacement occurred by dextral shear between the Cerro Prieto fault and the Main Gulf Escarpment in southeastern California and Baja California (Winker and Kidwell, 1986, 1996) (Figure 1).
DATA SET AND METHODS
Gravity and magnetic data
We made a compilation of gravity and magnetic data covering the Mexicali valley, Mesa Sonora and southern Arizona to produce magnetic and gravity anomaly maps (Figures 3a and 3b, respectively). All gravity data were merged and reduced to Bouguer gravity anomalies using the 1971 international gravity formula (Morelli, 1976), a reduction density of 2.67 g/cm3, and a datum plane at mean sea level. Terrain correction was available for most of data. The merged data were then gridded at an interval of 2.5 km and contoured to produce a Bouguer gravity anomaly map. Magnetic data over parts of northern Sonora and northern Baja California were obtained from a digital magnetic anomaly database of North America (USGS, 2002). This database resulted from leveling and merging aeromagnetic surveys from the U.S. Geological Survey, and Consejo de Recursos Minerales (Firme et al., 2001). The data are gridded to a spacing of 1 km and continued to an elevation of 3.5 km above the terrain.
PEMEX made six largeformat, analog seismic profiles available to this study (Figure 2). These seismic profiles were originally processed in the early 1980's at the Instituto Mexicano del Petróleo. The seismic profiles are 48 fold and six seconds of register. The filters applied to the raw data affected the higher frequencies and render the upper 0.3 seconds (twoway travel time, TWTT) practically useless. Although these seismic lines are of medium quality, they show little coherent noise (multiples) so that the boundaries of the major sedimentary sequences could be traced and interpreted in this study.
Interpretation of digital and analog well logs from seven exploratory wells (Figure 2) allowed us to interpret the lithostratigraphy of the Altar basin from gamma ray (GR), serfpotential (SP) and resistivity logs, and from the mudlog reports (Serra, 1984; PEMEX, unpublished well reports). The petrographic descriptions of several sediment cores helped calibrate the response of the well logs to the lithology.
For each PEMEX well, we computed a velocity profile from stacking velocities and used it to convert depth to time in order to incorporate the well stratigraphy into the nearest seismic profiles. As the seismic digital data are not available to us, we used the method of Metcalf (1981) to estimate the interval velocity, the average velocity, and the cumulative depth to any given horizon as defined with pairs of TWTT and normal moveout velocity (NMO). The method uses the equations developed by Dix (1955) (see Appendix 1 for details).
Geologic mapping at El Golfo de Santa Clara
Extensive outcrops of the upper 200 m of the sedimentary section where studied along the shore centered at El Golfo de Santa Clara (Figure 2). These outcrops provided useful stratigraphic and sedimentological information to interpret and constrain the depositional environments of the uppermost sequence along 25 km of outcrop. Selected samples where also investigated for microfossil content.
Structure of the Altar basin
The Altar basin is bounded by two major oblique normal faults on its eastern and southwestern side. Both, the Altar and Cerro Prieto faults, are inferred to have significant dextral offset, but both drop the southwestern side down (Figures 3a, 3b). The southeastern edge of the Altar basin is a north dipping detachment fault that was active while most of the sedimentary sequence deposited (see below).
In our gravity and magnetic maps, the Altar basin is defined by a broad magnetic low, interrupted to the NW by a local magnetic high north of W4, and bounded to the east by a positive magnetic lineation related to basement rocks merging into the NWoriented range of Sierra El Rosario (Figure 3a). This range, composed of preTertiary metamorphic and granitic basement rocks (Figure 2), clearly produces the magnetic and gravity highs that bound the basin to the east. On the basis of 2D modeling of aeromagnetic data and localized gravity data, Sumner (1972) proposed a large NWtrending, westdipping fault as the eastern structural boundary of the Altar basin, which we name here as the Altar fault. This structure is also inferred from the gravity and magnetic lineations that project from Bahia Adair toward the NW (Figures 3a, 3b), and by a subtle apparent dextral displacement of the magnetic and gravity highs. The northwesttrending magnetic and gravity gradients, and the horizontal displacement suggest continuation of the Altar fault to the northwest, where it is colinear to the Algodones and San Andreas faults in the eastern edge of the Salton trough (Figure 1).
In the gravity and magnetic anomaly maps, the Cerro Prieto fault zone apparently bounds the northwest trending anomalies (Figures 3a, 3b). This fault zone crudely marks the western boundary of the magnetic low related to the Altar basin, but also bounds an elongated gravity low west of the fault trace (Figure 3b). To the south, a gravity high separates the southeastern end of the Altar basin from a gravity lowin the northernmost gulf. Within the Altar basin, a gravity high with no associated magnetic anomaly is present to the north of well W5. The NWtrending, high magnetic anomalies northwest of the Altar basin and southeast of the Nuevo León magnetic anomaly (Goldstein et al., 1984) suggest the presence of basaltic intrusions along of the Cerro Prieto fault, although well W3 cut Cretaceous granitic basement at 4.5 km depth in a zone with a gravity low.
An uplifted alluvial terrace up to 130 m high and the exposures of the ancient delta in ravines along the shore at El Golfo de Santa Clara indicate current tectonic uplift of the southwestern Altar basin along the trace of the Cerro Prieto fault zone (Ortlieb, 1991). This uplift is also consistent with subsidence produced by the Cerro Prieto fault in the basin southwest of the modern shoreline (HurtadoArtunduaga, 2002; SánchezGuillen, 2004).
Stratigraphy of the Altar basin
Well logs in the Altar Desert and the eastern part of the Mexicali Valley indicate three main sedimentary sequences, which in some cases overlie crystalline basement (Figure 4). The scant paleontological data available from well samples of the older sequence help document the paleoenvironments and determine the age of deposition. However, age correlation between wells is not possible at this stage because age constraints are insufficient. Therefore we base our correlation on lithostratigraphic criteria, realizing that these facies could be laterally diachronous and may represent a more diverse and complex assemblage of sedimentary environments than the suggested here.
Wells Wl, W3, and W7 bottomed in lateCretaceous to earlyTertiary granitic rocks (Figure 4). The crystalline basement in well Wl is a greygreenish biotite granodiorite, withplagioclase, potassic feldspar and quartz. AKArage in Kfeldspar concentrate was reported as 63±5 Ma (PEMEX, 1985). The basement rock cut in well W3 is a granodiorite, reported as having the same mineralogy as the basement in well Wl, but with less chloritized biotite; the KAr age reported for Kfeldspar concentrates was 59±5 Ma. The crystalline basement in well W7 consists of abiotitemuscovitehornblendegarnetbearing granitic rock, with quartz and Kfeldspar; this rock has mildly granoblastic texture and is highly fractured, containing hematite as fracture fill, which could reflect deformation at and beneath the Altar detachment fault. The reported KAr ages in Kfeldspar concentrates varies from 79±5 Ma to 61±5 Ma (PEMEX, 1985). Although these reported ages have large errors, we are confident that these three wells terminated in lateCretaceous to earlyTertiary granitic and metamorphic basement rocks and not in lateCenozoic magmatic intrusions. However, well W2 ends in a young volcanic intrusion, which classified as quartzbearing andesite in the petrographic report by PEMEX. This rock was dated in 1.4±0.5 Ma by PEMEX (KAr in feldspar separates). The magnetic high west and southwest of well W2 and the gravity high around it may reflect mafic magmatism in the area.
Sequence A. Marine shale
The lower stratigraphic sequence is a grayblack, wellindurated, mildly calcareous shale, with subordinate siltstone beds. This unit directly overlies granitic basement in three of the wells (Figure 4), and has a thickness of > 1,000 m in well W7, 500 in well W6, and 500 m in well W1 (Figure 4). The upper part of this mudstone sequence was also cut at depth in well W5 (Figure 4).
The upper boundary of sequence A is transitional and is arbitrarily defined by an increase in silt and sand layers in the shale unit in each well. The shale lithofacies produce "cylindertype" electrosequences, 5 to 30 m thick, separated by relatively thick (12 m) siltstone to sandstone beds as defined in the Spontaneous Potential (SP) logs (Figure 5a). The silt and sand layers within the shale unit produce "funnelshaped" electrosequences (e.g. grain size increasing upsection), similar to the distinctive pattern of sequence B shown in the Gammaray (GR) and induction (IL) logs of Figure 5b.
Sequence B. Mudstonesandstone sequence
The lower marine shale sequence progressively grades upsection into alternating mudstonesiltstone and sandstone beds. The regular increase in abundance of siltstone and sandstone beds marks the base of sequence B, a lithologically distinctive sequence with a thickness ranging from 600 m in well W6, to 2,300 m in well W3 and W7 (see Figure 4).
Sequence B is composed of regularly interbedded, poorly cemented, finegrained sandstone, siltstone and mudstone. Mudstone and siltstone beds are more abundant both towards the base and top of sequence B. The well logs show meterscale, funnelshaped and bellshaped electrosequences, which specifically are abundant toward the upper part of sequence B. The funnelshaped electrofacies represents upwardcoarsening intervals, whereas the bellshaped electrofacies represents upwardfining intervals (Figure 5b). However, this sequence also includes very thick sandstone intervals, up to 100 m thick (see well W2), and mudstone intervals that can reach up to 400 m in thickness (see well W6 in Figure 4).
Sandstone beds are composed of light grey to tancolored, quartzrich, poorly consolidated sands, whereas mudstone beds are composed of grey to black, indurated to poorly indurated, slightly calcareous mudstone.
Sequence C. Sandstone sequence
Moving upsection, the stratigraphy of the Altar basin is characterized by a substantial increase in the proportion of sand relative to mud and silt (Figure 4). Sand intervals are progressively thicker and include conglomerate deposits and subordinated mudsilt strata in wells located to the north. This coarsegrained, poorlyconsolidated, sedimentary lithofacies is distinctive of sequence C, which varies in thickness from well to well, and reaches up to 2,970 m in well W4, and 3,460 m in well W5 (Figure 4). The smallest thickness is recorded in wells Wl and W6, located the farthest north and east from the Cerro Prieto fault zone, respectively (Figure 2).
Sand and gravel intervals show distinctive blockytype electrofacies, with a sawtooth shape, and low SP values in the well logs (Figure 5c). Individual sand and gravel intervals are 3 to 40 m thick and are separated by thin beds of muddy silt. Locally, finegrained deposits are up to 2 m thick, and usually mark the boundary of a thick sand interval. Conglomerate deposits within sequence C are conspicuous in wells Wl and W2 (Figure 4). Well Wl contains conglomerate beds alternating with sand deposits in the upper 1,000 m of the sequence. The conglomerate deposits are regularly interstratified, whereas in well W2 the gravel facies dominates in the upper 1,900 m of the sequence.
Volcanic deposits are interstratified in gravel deposits between the 1,5501,880 mdepth interval in well W2. This well is located 45 km east of the Cerro Prieto volcano (Figure 2). The volcanic deposits are lithic tuffs, for which no age dating is so far available. This well also bottomed in andesite rocks dated at 1.5±0.5 Ma (KAr in plagioclase concentrate), but drill cuttings of sediments above this volcanic rock and well logs do not indicate any effects due to hydrothermal alteration, in spite of the proximity of this well to the Cerro Prieto geothermal field. No samples are available to define if this rock is an intrusive body.
Biostratigraphy and age of sequences
To assign tentative ages to the sequences, we used the information on planktonic microfossils (Appendix, Table A) reported by PEMEX (1985), as well as preliminary results of our new studies in two wells. To help interpret depositional environments of the sequences, we used the benthonic assemblages (Appendix, Table B) also reported by PEMEX (1985).
This marine unit was deposited during latestMiocene to earlyPliocene time in inner to middle neritic environments. The presence of benthonic and planktonic foraminifera, calcareous nannofossils, and dinoflagellates indicate open marine conditions. The dominant environments at the time of deposition for the mudstone intervals are inner to middle neritic, as indicated by the presence of the benthonic foraminifera Elphidium, dbicidoides, Florilus, Trochammina and Brizalina subaenariensis. The presence of few planktonic taxa also supports this interpretation.
Shales from this sequence contain some reworked older taxa, together with microfossils indicative of a Miocene age. The following are the paleontological evidences found in the interval representing this sequence in some of the wells. Preliminary results from calcareous nannofossils and palynology (J. Helenes and A.L. Carreño, personal communication) in well Wl indicate an undifferentiated Miocene age (25.25.2 Ma) for the interval from 1,975 to 2,895 m, corresponding to sequence A. Additionally, a probable age of latest Miocene to Pleistocene was assigned to sequence A in this well on the basis of the presence of the calcareous nannofossils Calcidiscus macintyrei (Miocene, NN4 to lower Pleistocene, base of NN19; 182 Ma), Reticulofenestra pseudoumbilica (Miocene NN7 to Pliocene NN15; 123.5 Ma), and Sphenolitus neoabies (latest Miocene, NN1 to Pliocene, base of NN16; 63 Ma) (Pemex, 1985). Although, PerchNielsen (1985, fig. 7) consider that the first appearance of S. neoabies could be as early as middle Miocene (NN7; 12 Ma).
An age assigned as Miocene to lower Pliocene at 3,2953,300 m in well W7 is based on Globigerinoides obliquus. In well W2, aprobable age assigned as Pliocene to Holocene at 4,2554,265 m is based on Sphaeroidinella sp.? (Bolli and Saunders, 1985). However, this taxon could be caved or represent deposition in lateMiocene time, because Sphaeroidinella has been reported in upper Miocene strata (Srinivasan and Srivastava, 1974). Also, the identification of the taxon is uncertain, and it could represent a species of the closely related genus Sphaeroidinellopsis, in which case the age range could go from middle Miocene to Holocene.
This marine sequence contains reworked common Cretaceous to earlyTertiary taxa indicative of Colorado River influence. Unfortunately there are no clear paleontological evidences to assign a more detailed age to this sequence. The sandy and silty intervals of this unit contain benthonic foraminifera such as Ammonia and Elphidium, together with abundant ostracods and fragments of mollusks.
Microfossil determinations in finegrained samples from sequence C in wells Wl, W3 and W7 exclusively indicate reworking of Cretaceous and Paleogene planktonic and benthonic foraminifera. Five mudstone samples collected in El Golfo de Santa Clara (facies lm) are barren of calcareous microfossils and palynomorphs. However, we tentatively assign an undifferentiated PliocenePleistocene age to this sequence because the palynological content found in samples from this sequence is similar to that reported for the upper strata in an exploratory well drilled by CFE in the Laguna Salada (MartinBarajas et al., 2001). This similarity, and the age of the reworked fossils, suggest that sequence C was deposited in PliocenePleistocene time, with a strong Colorado River input.
Correlation and distribution of sedimentary sequences
Interpretation of six analogue seismic lines (Figure 2) and correlation using lithostratigraphy from wells indicate that sequences A, B, and C have a regional distribution, and represent the basin fill during the progradation of a subaqueous and possibly a subaereal part of the Colorado River delta over the lateNeogene marine basin. The conversion of depth to time in the well logs (Metcalf, 1981) allowed us to trace the first order boundaries between the main sedimentary sequences, as interpreted from well logs, on the seismic lines. The major sequence boundaries interpreted from well logs in well Wl can be traced in the long northsouth trending seismic line L35 (Figures 6 and 7). This 50 km long seismic line runs from near the apex of the modern delta toward the south, very close to the Cerro Prieto fault zone. It shows the long, continuous reflectors that overlie a sequence of sigmoidal reflectors dipping and downlapping to the south (Figure 7). In this seismic line, sequence boundary 1 (SB1) marks the contact between the marine mudstone (sequence A) and basement rocks. This boundary is defined by a nearly continuous, highimpedance reflector, which gently dips to the south (Figure 7). Below SB1, reflectors are rather discontinuous and chaotic, although some parallel reflectors, interpreted as coherent noise, are visible. Well control (Wl) indicates that basement rocks lie 2.8 km beneath the surface at the site, corresponding to 2.1 second (TWTT) in the seismic line (Figure 6), and closely match the strong reflector of the acoustic basement. Along this line to the south, the acoustic basement loses resolution, but dip directions of the overlying seismic reflectors and sequence boundaries 2 and 3 (SB2 and SB3) suggest that the basement is progressively deeper to the south (Figure 7).
In our interpreted seismic lines, sequence Ais characterized by short and wavy, high amplitude reflectors, which gently dip in opposite directions (Figures 6, 7). Apparent imbrication of reflectors and large mound forms are distinctive features of this marine shale sequence. In line 5034A, seismic reflectors of sequence A appear to thicken toward south and are cut by a northdipping reflector interpreted as a detachment fault above crystalline basement (SB1) (Figure 8).
In line L35 (Figures 6 and 7), sequence B shows distinctive parallel, lowamplitude, discontinuous reflectors. Farther to the south, sequence B is a pattern of long and betterdefined seismic reflectors interrupted by zones of prograding, downlapping reflectors. These overlie lensshaped parasequences and clinoforms with sigmoidal patterns interpreted to be sequence A (Figures 6 and 7). In line 5034 A (Figure 8), stratigraphic control provided by well W6 indicates that SB2 is located slightly above (0.1 ms) a strong and continuous reflector, which we interpret as part of sequence A in this seismic line. Below SB2 in seismic line 5034A (Figure 8), we see the distinctive reflector pattern of sequence A and a large wedgeshaped sedimentary unit with reflectors having an apparent dip to the southsoutheast. This interpretation of the stratigraphic relationship suggests that the lower part of sequences A and B have nonuniform thickness, with thicker shale deposits toward the southeast. In this seismic line, the unconformity between sequence A and basement rocks is clear, and the basement becomes shallower towards the southern end of the line; in well W7, the basement was penetrated at 3,700 m where it appears altered and highly fractured beneath the detachment fault. This structural relationship between sequence A and granitic acoustic basement is suspicious because we might expect that marine deposits should overlie pretransgressive continental deposits, as is documented in some other coeval basins in the Salton trough (Kerr, 1984; Kerr and Kidwell, 1991), and the Yuma basin (Eberly and Stanley, 1978).
The three seismic lines across part of the delta in a WSWENE direction provide a different perspective of sequences B and C. Line L4987 can be tied to well W4, but wells W3 and W5 are located across the trace of the Cerro Prieto fault at the end of seismic lines L4983 and L4997, respectively. This prevents matching these wells directly to the seismic reflectors on the seismic lines. However, two principal patterns of seismic reflectors can be depicted from these lines (Figure 9). The lower seismic pattern is composed of variable length, high impedance reflectors, with lateral downlaponlap geometry, that produce paleohills and valleys (Figure 9). Well W4 in the western end of line L4987 suggests that this lower pattern may correspond to sequence B. Well W4 is located two km north from this seismic line, and the lower boundary of the sandy facies of sequence C correlates with wavy reflectors at 2.6 seconds (TWTT). An alternative interpretation is that this irregular pattern is formed by premarine deposits and/or basement rocks.
Well W5 is at or west the trace of the Cerro Prieto fault at the end of seismic line L4997. This line presents a distinctive lateral change in the pattern of reflectors across the fault zone (Figure 9): the long and parallel reflectors of sequence C change laterally into a zone of short, high impedance reflectors dipping to the SW (Figure 9). We interpret this change as the effect of the deformation close to the fault zone and the control that the Cerro Prieto fault exerted over sedimentation to the west.
Sequence C produces distinctive long and continuous, high impedance reflectors. Its base (SB3) in seismic line L35 (Figures 6 and 7) marks the progradation of coarsegrained facies. Toward the southern end of seismic line L35, the pattern of continuous reflectors changes to one of less continuous and/or poorly defined reflectors that are more characteristic of sequence B. Southward, the seismic line loses resolution and the seismic pattern of sequence C becomes chaotic and poorly defined, which is probably related to boundary conditions in the processing of seismic data (Figure 7). In the EW trending seismic lines, SB 3 is progressively deeper to the east (see Figure 9) and sequence C is apparently thicker in that direction. However, the seismic lines are not long enough to depict the eastern margin of the basin; besides, well W6 contains a thinner sequence C compared to wells W4 and W5.
In summary, the stratigraphy of the Altar basin consists of three main sedimentary sequences (Table 1), which correspond to (1) a shale unit >600 m thick of late(?)Miocene to earlyPliocene marine sedimentation (sequence A); (2) a 1,2002,200 mthick interval of interstratified sandstone, siltstone and mudstone, which represent sedimentation in presumed Pliocene time (sequence B); and (3) a predominantly sandstone unit up to 3,000 m thick, with subordinated conglomerate and mudstone, probably of PliocenePleistocene age (sequence C).
Outcrops at El Golfo de Santa Clara
The upper 200 m of sequence C crop out along 25 km onshore at El Golfo de Santa Clara (Figure 2). The sequence gently dips 512° ENE, and is not affected significantly by faulting. The stratigraphic sequence consists of a series of cut and fill units each <1 mto 10 m thick composed of a distinctive facies pattern. The complete facies pattern includes a basal scour filled with lag conglomerate or breccia (up to 0.5 m thick), composed of >90% mudstone intraclasts up to 30 cm in diameter (Figure 10a). This rudite is matrix to clast supported, and grades upwards into lateral accretion bedsets of coarse sand. These two facies generally fill the scour and underlie a thick deposit (up to a few meters) of plannarbeds and lamina of wellsorted, poorly consolidated, quartzose sand (Figures 10b, 10c). This sandy facies grades upwards into laminated to crossbedded siltstone, and into a laminated mudstone facies (1m). The sand and silt rocks are the volumetrically dominant facies in these outcrops. The basal scour has a lateral extension of tens to hundreds of meters and the finegrained facies, including the intraclast conglomerate, are more resistant to erosion and form laterally continuous beds, which likely produce the distinctive long and continuous reflectors of sequence C.
Softsediment deformation is conspicuous in the sand and silt facies. Largescale flames and convolute lamination, as well as massive sand intervals, are distinctive features. The softsediment deformation is developed ubiquitously below channels and incised by the basal scour. Spatial relations suggest that softsediment deformation and incision may be genetically linked. Laminations of heavy minerals and clasts of silicified wood are very common. In contrast, marine calcareous shells are absent, and only small burrows occur in the silt and/or muddy facies.
Although the thickness of the sequence at El Golfo de Santa Clara is small compared with the sequence recorded in wells, these outcrops are important because they represent a pristine stratigraphic window into the upper part of sequence C, which is likely dominated by fluvial deposits. Well W7 is located at the top of the outcrops near El Golfo de Santa Clara, and their upper 500 m are likely part of this sandy fluvial sequence.
Sequence correlation and stratigraphic evolution
We present a fence diagram showing the distribution of sequences A, B, and C correlated on the basis of their dominant lithology, characteristic electrosequences, biostratigraphic data, and distinctive seismic reflection patterns (Figure 11). In the following section, we interpret the implications of these stratigraphic sequences for the sedimentary evolution of the Altar basin.
Sequence A, and other protoGulf deposits in the northern Gulf of California
Correlation of the marine shale sequence A across the Altar basin is based on the presence of this unit in three wells that cut basement at depth (Wl, W3 and W7) (Figure 11). Additionally, this sequence was also cut in well W6, and probably in the lower part of well W5 (Figure 4). We interpret that sequence A is also present beneath sequence B in wells W4 and W5, as suggested by a shale interval in the lowermost 100 m in well W5 (5,2205,320 m) (Figure 4). The thickness of sequence A in wells that cut crystalline basement is 600 m. This thickness is a minimum estimate for the total thickness of sequence A, because it clearly continues at depth in well W6 as seen in its distinctive seismic pattern (Figure 8). These stratigraphic relationships strongly suggest that the marine sequence A has a widespread distribution in the Altar basin.
Correlation of the marine mudstones of sequence A toward the Yuma basin is possible because a similar unit was reported in the exploration well Exxon Federal No. 1 (Eberly and Stanley, 1978; Guzman, 1981) (see location in Figure 11). In the Yuma basin, a marine upperMiocene sequence (c.f., Eberly and Stanley, 1978) is 490 m thick and grades down section to a tuffaceous sandstone and coarsegrained conglomeratic sandstone. These, in turn, overlie a predominantly volcanic unit, dated at 16 Ma, and older continental elastics and volcanic intrusives. In the Altar basin, the middle to earlyMiocene volcanic and sedimentary section is missing in the three wells that penetrated in the crystalline basement. This indicates that more than 900 m of premarine volcanic and sedimentary rocks were preserved in the Yuma basin a few kilometers north of well W1, but are absent in the Altar basin (Figure 2). This difference in the lateCenozoic stratigraphy suggests that the Yuma basin and the Altar basin were separated basins prior to the first marine incursion in the northern gulf in lateMiocene time.
Our preliminary biostratigraphic dating favors a lateMiocene age for sequence A, which is consistent with a synchronous marine incursion in the northern gulf and Salton trough areas (McDougall et al., 1999; Oskin and Stock, 2003). However, the presence of early to middleMiocene marine microfossils (Cotton and von der Haar, 1979, Helenes and Carreño, 1999; McDougall et al., 1999; Helenes et al., 2005) needs to be explained, and thus an even older age for protoGulf marine deposits cannot yet be ruled out.
Sequences B and C, and the growth of the delta
Both sequences B and C are intimately related to the construction of the Colorado River delta. The highfrequency alternation of mudstone, siltstone and sandstone in sequence B suggests cyclic processes in the subaqueous part of the delta apron. This indicates that sequence B and C represent the transition to a more proximal position within the delta system. Sequence C is dominated by sandy facies that we interpret as representing the progradation of the fluvial facies of the delta. The parallel and continuous pattern of reflectors, distinctive of sequence C, likely results from the stacking of deposits from successive flooding events. Based on the recognition of the cut and fill sequence at El Golfo de Santa Clara, we interpret the general blocky pattern of electrofacies in well log of W7 to indicate amalgamated sandy deposits. This sandy facies includes reworked microfossils, abundant terrestrial fossil of Irvingtonian age (<21 Ma) (Shaw et al, 2005), and a quartzose composition indicative of a Colorado River provenance. Subaereal deposits and evidence of exposure of the fluvial delta plain (e.g., bioturbation, soil horizons), and lateral diversity of fluvial channel and overbank facies are seen along 25 km of exposure in the badlands of El Golfo de Santa Clara.
The transition from subaqueous to subaerial part of the delta complex cannot be defined yet because the seismic lines have poor resolution. Nevertheless, thickness variations of sequence C between wells suggest that coarsegrained facies are thicker in wells close to the path of the modern river, which indicate that conglomerates represent fluvial channel deposits. Wells W4 and W5, located in the western part of the basin, contain thicker sandy sequences (up to 3,000 m), whereas wells Wl, W2 and W3, located closer to the apex of the delta, contain thinner sandstoneconglomerate sequences (< 1,000 m) and distinctive conglomeratic deposits indicating highenergy fluvial channel deposits. This thickness for the fluvial conglomeratic succession would require a unique set of circumstances to maintain the fluvial channels in position for the amount of time needed to preserve 1,000 m during subsidence.
Correlation of sequence B and C with other delta sequences in other basins in the Salton trough is difficult because the growth of the delta occurred in a relatively narrow, andtectonically active depression, which produced diverse sedimentary environments. For instance, a 3.2 km deep well in the Saltonbasin (State 214) reveals a stratigraphic record of predominantly lacustrine mudstonesiltstone deposits punctuated with basin margin alluvial deposits of latestPliocene and Quaternary age (Herzig and Elders, 1988). No evidence of marine sedimentation exists in this stratigraphic record, but it should be considered that the entire sequence cut in well State 214 is probably of Pleistocene age, as deduced from rapid sedimentation rates of 2.4 m/Ka (Herzig and Elders, 1988). Alternatively, it could have an upper Pliocene age if we accept lower sedimentation rates based on Holocene radiocarbon ages (van de Kamp, 1973). This probably implies that the lacustrine sequence penetrated by well in the modern Salton basin may be coeval with the upper part of sequence B, and the whole of sequence C in the Altar basin.
Outcrops of fluvial and other nonmarine deltaic deposits in the southwestern Salton trough are 22.5 km thick (Johnson et al., 1983). These deposits comprise the Palm Spring Group of Winker and Kidwell (1996), and build the bulk of the fluvial succession of the delta in Pliocene time. The fluvial succession in the southwestern Salton trough may correlate with our sequence B, although sedimentary facies differ. The Altar basin, and the whole region, were exposed to sealevel changes, and, for this reason, sequence B may include facies of marine and transitional environments.
In the Cerro Prieto geothermal field, the stratigraphic sequence indicates a complex sedimentary environment developed at the delta front (Lyons and van de Kamp, 1980). Near the eastern range front of Sierra Cucapah, a thick sandstone unit laterally passes eastward into an alternance of mudstonesiltstonesandstone, which is lithologically similar to our sequence B. The thick sandstone unit is interpreted as deposited by tidal sand bars along a narrow seaway into the Salton basin (Lyons and van de Kamp, 1980). McDougal et al. (1999) document the presence of marine Miocene strata at Whitewater, at the northern end of the Salton trough. However, younger marine deposits are absent in the Salton basins and this precludes an extensive inflow of marine waters into the Salton Sea since midPliocene time.
Tectonic implications and unresolved questions
The structure of the Altar basin appears to be controlled by northwesttrending faults as is indicated by the elongated gravity and magnetic anomalies (Figures 3a and 3b). To the east of the basin is the Altar fault proposed by Sumner (1972). Although this feature is not imaged in the seismic lines studied here, it remains a firm candidate to accommodate more than 5 km of subsidence recorded in well W4 in the western part of the basin. The Altar fault is not seismically active today, and we interpret that its activity started in lateMiocene time because the marine shale sequence (sequence A), overlying the granitic basement, has that age and no older deposits are recorded within the basin. Seismic profiles from Bahía Adair and the northern gulf indicate a narrow zone of transform faulting that projects northwest into the Altar basin (AragónArreóla et al., 2003). Additionally, gravity data across the southeastern termination of the Altar basin indicate a gravity low at the southeast projection of the Altar fault, which is interpreted as a depression in the basement (Kinsland and Lock, 2001). These authors also suggested that an ancestral Colorado River exited along this depression to enter the gulf at Bahía Adair. Although we cannot evaluate the amount of strikeslip offset of the Altar fault, this structure may have played a key role during the early definition of the modern transtensional regime. This fault may have been the southward extension of the San Andreas fault zone and the Algodones fault, and have been responsible of the NW elongation of the delta apron during Pliocene time.
The Cerro Prieto fault zone is a major fault active at the plate boundary today. This fault zone can be considered as forming the western structural boundary of the Altar basin. The proximity of the Cerro Prieto fault zone to the southwestern end of seismic lines L4983 and L4997 produces westtilted reflectors and internally tilted blocks, as well as zones of chaotic reflectors (Figure 9).
Localization of subsidence toward the Cerro Prieto basin may have started in PliocenePleistocene time, and so the Altar basin accumulated a large amount of subsidence before the main plate boundary shifted westwards into the Cerro Prieto fault. Along the southern half of the Cerro Prieto fault, near well W7, the dipslip component of the fault zone is to the west. We speculate that, at the time when the sediments of the Altar basin were deposited, the Cerro Prieto fault zone may have been a subparallel oblique (down to the east) fault, forming a narrow transtensional graben paired to the Altar fault to the east. This hypothetical fault was subsequently abandoned when the locus of subsidence was transferred northwest into the Cerro Prieto pullapart basin. If this were the case, subsidence in the southern half of the Cerro Prieto fault zone would have changed its polarity, because this segment of the transform fault now accommodates subsidence toward the west in the northernmost Gulf of California. Thus, the Altar basin lies within the footwall block of the modern Cerro Prieto fault, and is being uplifted by recent activity (Ortlieb, 1991).
Our results are consistent with the view that the Altar basin started to subside in lateMiocene time when the transtensional tectonics of the modern plate boundary became localized in the Gulf of California (c.f, Oskin et al, 2001). However, the stratigraphic relationship between the mudstone unit and the crystalline basement in the Altar basin requires an alternative explanation other than a buttress unconformity. Early rift continental deposits reported in several localities in the western Salton trough and the Yuma basin (see Winker and Kidwell, 1996; and Axen and Fletcher, 1998 for a review) are dismembered in the Altar basin by a detachment fault. The upperMiocene to Pliocene marine sequence in the adjacent Yuma basin overlies more than 900 m of Oligocene to middleMiocene continental and volcanic deposits that are absent to the south in most of the Altar basin (Figure 11). Although the abrupt depositional contact of marine shale over crystalline basement could be due to a rapid marine transgression, we favor the alternative explanation of a tectonic contact that juxtaposes the marine shale sequence and the granitic basement along a lowangle detachment fault. The wedgeshaped character of sequences A and B in seismic line L5034A (Figure 8) is interpreted as growthfault structures that affect most of the stratigraphic sequence. The detachment faulting that affected most of the stratigraphic section might have stopped at the end of deposition of sequence C, as indicated by the long reflectors downlapping the acoustic basement in line L5034A (Figure 8).
LateMiocene to Pliocene subsidence in several localities along the western margins of Salton trough in the Imperial Valley and northern Baja California was accommodated by eastwardly dipping, lowangle normal faults, partially concurrent with the onset of wrench tectonics (Siem andGastil, 1994; Axen and Fletcher, 1998). Reconstruction of conjugate margins back to lateMiocene time indicates that the southwestern margin of the Salton trough formerly faced the present coast of the Altar Desert in Sonora (Winker and Kidwell, 1996). Toptothewest detachment faults in Laguna Salada probably rooted beneath the area occupied by the Altar basin before being displaced tectonically for 80100 km along the Cerro Prieto fault. Where documented, these detachment faults were overprinted by highangle normal and oblique faults, and later disrupted by the strikeslip faults that currently dissect the Salton trough and the Laguna Salada area (Winker and Kidwell, 1986, 1996; Siem and Gastil, 1994; Axen and Fletcher, 1998; Dorsey et al, 2004).
Independent constraints for the timing of transtensional strain onset in the Gulf of California indicate 260 kilometers of oblique extension across conjugate rifted margins sometime after 6.3 Ma (Oskin et al., 2001). Recent work based on the interpretation of extensive seismic reflection lines indicates that deformation in the gulf area followed a process of westward shifting of strain localization that has produced abandoned transtensional basins along the eastern margin of the Gulf (AragónArreóla et al., 2003). The abandonment of the Altar basin may have resulted from this process of relocation of deformation into the Cerro Prieto fault and related basins.
Integration of geophysical data, exploration well data and outcrop mapping in the Altar basin at the northern end of the Gulf of California indicates that this structurally distinct basin contains three major sedimentary sequences, which can be traced across the Altar basin and record the growth of the subaqueous part of the delta as it prograded into the marine gulf since late Miocene early Pliocene. The lower sequence (sequence A) records a lateMiocene to earlyPliocene marine incursion in the northern gulf. A minimum thickness of 600 m of marine shale (sequence A) in the Altar basin indicates that open marine conditions existed prior to the arrival of detritus carried by the Colorado River into northwestern Sonora. This is consistent with a regional marine transgression in the northern gulf (see review by Oskin and Stock, 2003) concurrent with localization of transtensional deformation in the gulf area at about 6.2 Ma (Oskin et al., 2001).
Our data do not permit dating the first arrival of Colorado River sediments to the Altar basin. However, we consider that the Colorado River reached this area at approximately the same time as in the southwestern Salton trough, that is, between 5.3 and 4.2 Ma (Winker and Kidwell, 1996). Most probably, both areas were still adjacent in Pliocene time, and thus the age range for the arrival of the Colorado River into the S W Salton trough is likely the age of the base of sequence B in the Altar basin.
We interpret sequence B as the result of sediment accumulation at the toe of the prodeltafedby turbidite events. Sealevel changes may produce variations to shallower sedimentary environments, like delta front and tidal flats settings. Highfrequency interstratification of sandstone, siltstone and mudstone, with bellshaped electrosequences, which contain shallow water microfossils and mollusc shell fragments, are consistent with this interpretation. The cut and fill pattern for the uppermost part of sequence C cropping out at El Golfo de Santa Clara, and the evidence for subaereal deposits, support the interpretation of a fluvial plain facies.
The unconformity between the base of sequence A and the crystalline basement, recorded in three wells and in the seismic lines, indicates tectonic erosion along lowangle detachment faults. This interpretation is appealing because similar relationships are found in the Laguna Salada area (Isaac, 1987, Siem and Gastil, 1994; Dorsey and Martin Barajas, 1999). Although not imaged in our seismic data, the Altar fault likely controlled subsidence in this basin and may have also accommodated part of the strikeslip component in the early phase of transtensional deformation related to the oblique rifting process. The Altar fault and the detachment fault may have been linked to the transtensional domain of the southernmost San Andreas fault in late Miocene to Pliocene.
Our longterm aim is to make a comprehensive threedimensional model of the evolution of the different sedimentary environments of the Colorado River delta, in order to understand how, and when, the delta formed and was deformed. The delta is a repository of information on its responses to tectonism, longterm climate changes, sealevel changes, and transient events such as catastrophic flooding. The geological history of this region is the inescapable backdrop of the economic and environmental issues along the international border that arbitrarily divides the delta of the one of the world's major rivers between two nations.
This work was partially funded by UCMEXUS project CN0249. We thank Adán Oviedo and Mario Limón from PEMEX for kindly providing well data and copies of analog seismic lines, and for permission to publish these results. The use of Geographix for interpretation and analysis of well logs data was possible under Landmark University Grant 2002COM015129 to CICESE. Thanks to D. Meloche and R. Dorsey for valuable discussions. Stimulating thoughtful reviews by S. Janecke and C. GonzálezLeón greatly improved this manuscript.
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In order to elaborate the curves of double time versus depth, a program in Matlab language based on the algorithm of Metcalf (1981) was implemented. This program calculates the interval velocity, average velocity and the depth to seismic reflectors defined by pairs of twoway travel times and normal move out velocities. The twoway travel times and the normal move out velocities are taken directly from the analyses of velocities near the well. The algorithm of conversion of double times to depth is based on the equations of Dix (1955) which are expressed as follow: APPENDIX