Origin of the Uinta recess, Sevier fold-thrust belt, Utah: Influence of basin architecture on fold-thrust belt geometry

Timothy Paulsen, Stephen Marshak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Structural trends in the Sevier fold-thrust belt define a pronounced concave-to-the-foreland map-view curve, the Uinta recess, in north-central Utah. This recess separates two convex-to-the-foreland curves, the Provo salient on the south and the Wyoming salient on the north. The two limbs of the recess comprise transverse zones (fault zones at a high-angle to the regional trend of the orogen) that border the flanks of the east-west-trending Uinta/Cottonwood arch. Our structural analysis indicates that the transverse zones formed during the Sevier orogeny, and that they differ markedly from each other in structural style. The Charleston transverse zone (CTZ), on the south side of the arch, initiated as a complex sinistral strike-slip fault system that defines the abrupt northern boundary of the Provo salient. The Mount Raymond transverse zone (MRTZ), on the north side of the arch, represents the region in which the southeast-verging southern limb of the gently curving Wyoming salient was tilted northwards during the Laramide phase of uplift of the Uinta/Cottonwood arch. In effect, the MRTZ represents an oblique cross section through a thrust belt. The contrasting architecture of these transverse zones demonstrates how pre-deformation basin geometry influences the geometry of a fold-thrust belt. Analysis of isopach maps indicates that, at the time the Sevier fold-thrust belt formed, the area just north of the present site of the Uinta/Cottonwood arch was a basement high, with a gently dipping north flank, and a steeply dipping south flank. Thus, predeformational sediment thickened abruptly to the south of the high and thickened gradually to the north of the high. As illustrated by sandbox models, the distance that a fold-thrust belt propagates into the foreland depends on the thickness of the sedimentary layer being deformed, so the shape of the salient mimics the longitudinal cross-sectional shape of the sedimentary basin. Where basins taper gradually along strike, the thrust belt curves gently, but where basins taper abruptly along strike, the thrust belt curves so tightly that it disarticulates and becomes bounded laterally by a strike-slip accommodation zone. The geometry of the Uinta recess provides a field example of this concept. Differential movement of Sevier thrusts led to formation of gradually curving thrusts on the north side of the high, because of the gradual slope of the high's north flank, but led to the along-strike disarticulation of thrusts on the south side of the high, because of the steep slope of the high's south flank. In effect, therefore, thrust belt map-view geometry provides insight into predeformational basin geometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-216
Number of pages14
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - Nov 5 1999


  • Basin
  • Fold-thrust belt
  • Recess
  • Sevier
  • Thickness
  • Uinta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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