New 40Ar–39Ar dating of Lower Cretaceous basalts at the southern front of the Central High Atlas, Morocco: insights on late Mesozoic tectonics, sedimentation and magmatism

Abstract

This study is based upon a stratigraphic and structural revision of a Middle Jurassic–Upper Cretaceous mostly continental succession exposed between Boumalne Dades and Tinghir (Southern Morocco), and aims at reconstructing the relation among sedimentary, tectonic and magmatic processes that affected a portion of the Central High Atlas domains. Basalts interbedded in the continental deposits have been sampled in the two studied sites for petrographic, geochemical and radiogenic isotope analyses. The results of this study provide: (1) a robust support to the local stratigraphic revision and to a regional lithostratigraphic correlation based on new 40Ar–39Ar ages (ca. 120 Ma) of the intervening basalts; (2) clues for reconstructing the relation between magma emplacement in a structural setting characterized by syn-depositional crustal shortening pre-dating the convergent tectonic inversion of the Atlasic rifted basins; (3) a new and intriguing scenario indicating that the Middle Jurassic–Lower Cretaceous basalts of the Central High Atlas could represent the first signal of the present-day Canary Islands mantle plume impinging, flattening, and delaminating the base of the Moroccan continental lithosphere since the Jurassic, and successively dragged passively by the Africa plate motion to NE. The tectono-sedimentary and magmatic events discussed in this paper are preliminarily extended from their local scale into a peculiar geodynamic setting of a continental plate margin flanked by the opening and spreading Central Atlantic and NW Tethys oceans. It is suggested that during the late Mesozoic this setting created an unprecedented condition of intraplate stress for concurrent crustal shortening, related mountain uplift, and thinning of continental lithosphere.

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Fig. 1

(modified from Carte Géologique du Maroc 1985) with location of the study area and Figs. 2, 3. The main synclines filled with Jurassic–Cretaceous continental red beds (J1, J2, J3, J-C, C) in the chain are indicated. Stars represent the sampling sites of magmatic rocks. HA1 (Db) and HA24 (JIb) are the two basalts newly dated through 40Ar–39Ar step-heating. White boxes report ages of upper Mesozoic magmatic bodies after Hailwood and Mitchell (1971), Westphal et al. (1979), and Armando (1999) recalculated, when necessary, with the decay constants of 40K reported in Steiger and Jäger (1977). Inset: Structural domains in Morocco. NAF North Atlas Fault, SAF South Atlas Fault, WMA Western Moroccan Arch

Fig. 2

(adapted from Massironi and Moratti 2007 and Benvenuti et al. 2017) (see Fig. 1 for location)

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Mohamed Gouiza and Dominik Letsch for their accurate reviews that greatly helped to improve the manuscript. The authors also wish to acknowledge Professors Ahmed and Abdellah Algouti of the Cadi Ayyad University of Marrakech for their unvaluable support during fieldwork. The research has benefitted from University of Florence (I-Fund programme, Fondi di Ateneo, 2012–2016), CNR-IGG (Geological Mapping Funds), and PRIN 20158A9CBM grants.

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Moratti, G., Benvenuti, M., Santo, A.P. et al. New 40Ar–39Ar dating of Lower Cretaceous basalts at the southern front of the Central High Atlas, Morocco: insights on late Mesozoic tectonics, sedimentation and magmatism. Int J Earth Sci (Geol Rundsch) 107, 2491–2515 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00531-018-1609-7

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Keywords

  • Central High Atlas
  • Late Mesozoic basalts
  • 40Ar–39Ar dating
  • Geochemistry
  • Sr–Nd radiogenic isotopes
  • Tectono-sedimentary evolution