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Integration of the Gila River drainage system through the Basin and Range province of southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico (USA)

Dickinson, William R.
Geomorphology 2015 v.236 pp. 1-24
Miocene epoch, Pliocene epoch, basins, drainage, drainage systems, internal drainage, lakes, landscapes, mountains, playas, rivers, sediments, streams, topography, Arizona, Colorado River, Gulf of California, New Mexico
The Gila River and its tributaries in southern Arizona and adjoining states incorporate several dozen individual extensional basins of the central Basin and Range province into a single integrated drainage network. Forty basins in the Gila domain contain more than 1000m (maximum ~3500m) of post-12Ma basin fill. Subsurface evaporites in many basins document internal drainages terminating in isolated playa lakes during early phases of basin history. The nature of intrabasinal and interbasinal divides and of eroded or sedimented stream passages through mountain ranges intervening between the basins reveal the geomorphic mechanisms that achieved drainage integration over late Miocene to early Pleistocene time. Drainage integration accompanied by headward erosion eastward toward Gila headwaters was a response to Miocene opening of the Gulf of California, into which the Gila River debouched directly before the Pliocene (<5Ma) lower course of the Colorado River was established. Residual basins of internal drainage where headward erosion has not yet penetrated into basin fill are most common in the easternmost Gila domain but also persist locally farther west. Most basin fill was dissected during drainage integration within the upstream Gila domain but continued accumulation of undissected basin fill by sediment aggradation is dominant in the downstream Gila domain. Basin dissection was initiated by Pliocene time in the central Gila domain but was delayed until Pleistocene time farther east. In the westernmost Gila domain, interaction with erosional and depositional episodes along the Colorado River influenced the development of Quaternary landscapes along the tributary Gila River. The sedimentary history of the Gila drainage network illustrates the means by which trunk rivers can establish courses across corrugated topography produced by the extensional rupture of continental blocks.