Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How old is the Owyhee?

Today, Dr. Froude presented the most basic question: How old is the Owyhee River. I pulled some stuff out of the air in a quick response, and ultimately claimed the river developed between about 5-8 Ma and 1.8 Ma. I decided my response was too quick, and too poorly founded, so I started looking for some of Ninad's data. Turns out that Miami Univ puts all of their dissertations online. Very handy. Thus, I present some of Ninad's dissertation below to serve as a reference point for all of us. By combining his data with our collective field observations, I think we can answer the question. For the sake of completeness, here is my response to Froude's query:

Bogus Rim flow and underlying flows fill a surprisingly deep paleovalley that runs along the alignment of the modern canyon below iron point. Gravels are present at the base of the sequence in a few places (including possibly in the Owyhee Breaks area) and there are erosional intervals preserved between some of the flows. Not sure how well constrained the ages of the lowest flow (the 'lower Bogus lavas') are, but somewhere between 5 and 8 comes to mind (without looking anything up). There was a river flowing north before the Bogus lavas were emplaced. This river created the paleotopography in the Grassy Mountain Rhyolite and sediments before the first big barf of basalt flowed north. Based on the thickness of the Bogus Lavas in the Rinehart Canyon area, there were some deeply incised tributaries flowing into the river.

In terms of field evidence, the biggest influx of gravel occurs in conjunction with the end of the damming event caused by the Bogus Rim flow. I believe that evidence is mounting that a very large lake occupied the area upstream of where the Bogus Rim flow would have created a dam somewhere near Iron Point. Thus, the pre Bogus Rim river was probably a nearly full blown Owyhee. Possibly the full blown river developed in conjunction with surmounting the Bogus Rim dam? That should have been sometime after about 1.8 Ma. I recently collected a tephra from the lake sediments that I postulate were deposited into a Bogus Rim dammed lake. Dating that may be of some value.

Here is the geochronology from our area as reported by Ninad Bondre:
Here is a nifty map that places these data in a better context:
Also, Ninad's thesis includes a handy little geologic map:

Some thoughts:

Despite the geochronology, I am thinking that the Owyhee Butte lava must predate the Bogus Bench lava. Field relations suggest that the gravel that pervasively overlies the Owyhee Butte lava is related to damming of the Owyhee River by the Bogus Bench (Rim) lava. I have not seen any gravel below the Owyhee Butte lava (forms the Artillery Rim), but Liz and I noted in July that there are hyaloclastite units in the upper parts of this package. Note also that the Bogus Bench (Rim...Brim?) lava has no gravel on top until you get a few km downstream from Iron Point. There, you find a 5-8 m thick deposit of locally derived, but rounded gravels. (I have shown pictures of this before in a previous post, but may add them again soon for emphasis). We know from multiple locations that the Bogus Rim lava flowed down a channel of the Owyhee River and overlies rounded gravel in various places. The local gravel pile likely relates to decommissioning of the dam.
Thus, the river is at least 1.92 Ma old. Note that the 4569 vent has a date of approximately 5.64 Ma. The one-sided plateau morphology of that vent and flow complex supports the idea that it formed a lake on its south side, much like Bogus Bench. However, I have not seen (nor looked hard for) gravel. My hunch is that this may be related to a precursor drainage. Speculative.
My preliminary conclusion is that the river formed between 5.6 and 1.92 Ma, probably closer to 1.92. Any thoughts?

All figures and the table in this post taken from:

Bondre, N.R., 2006, Field and geochemical investigation of basaltic magmatism in the western United States and India. PhD. Dissertation, Miami University, Miami, OH., 252 p.


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