Origin of the Salt Valleys in the Canyonlands Section of the Colorado Plateau - Evaporite-Dissolution Collapse Versus Tectonic Subsidence
The salt valleys over the axis of the salt-cored anticlines in the Paradox fold and fault belt (Canyonlands, Utah and Colorado) are created by subsidence of the anticline crests. Traditionally, the collapse of the anticlinal crests was attributed to dissolution of the salt walls (diapirs) forming the anticline cores. Recent studies based on scaled physical models and field observations propose that the salt valleys are a result of regional extension and that salt dissolution had only a minor influence in the development of the axial depressions. This paper presents several arguments and lines of evidence that refute the tectonic model and support the salt dissolution subsidence interpretation. The development of contractional structures in salt dissolution experiments led the advocates of the tectonic interpretation to reject the dissolution-induced subsidence explanation. However, these salt dissolution models do not reproduce the karstification of salt walls in a realistic way, since their analog involves removal of salt from the base of the diapirs during the experiments. Additionally, numerous field examples and laboratory models conducted by other authors indicate that brittle subsidence in karst settings is commonly controlled by subvertical gravity faults. Field evidence against the regional extension model includes (1) a thick cap rock at the top of the salt walls, (2) the concentration of subsidence deformation structures along the crest of the anticlines (salt walls), (3) deformational structures not consistent with the proposed NNE extension, like crestal synforms and NE-SW grabens, (4) dissolution-induced subsidence structures controlled by ring faulting, revealing deep-seated dissolution, (5) large blocks foundered several hundred meters into the salt wall, (6) evidence of recent and active dissolution subsidence, and (7) the aseismic nature of the recently active collapse faults. Although underground salt dissolution seems to be the main cause for the generation of the salt valleys, this phenomenon may have been favored by regional extension tectonics that enhance the circulation of groundwater and salt dissolution.
Gutierrez, F. (2004). Origin of the salt valleys in the Canyonlands section of the Colorado Plateau - Evaporite-dissolution collapse versus tectonic subsidence. Geomorphology, 57:2-4, 423-435. doi:10.1016/s0169-555x(03)00186-7