Gravity constraints on lithosphere flexure and the structure of the late Paleozoic Ouachita orogen in Arkansas and Oklahoma, south central North America


Spectral analysis of Bouguer gravity anomalies in western central Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma indicates that the thickness of the crust in the Ouachita fold and thrust belt increases from 38 km in the western Ouachitas to 44 km in the eastern Ouachitas. The change in crustal thickness occurs near the western end of the Broken Bow uplift and coincides with an abrupt decrease in the flexural rigidity of the lithosphere from 1.8×1024 N m in the western Ouachitas to 5.0×1023 N m in the eastern Ouachitas. The flexural rigidity in the western Ouachitas is similar to values determined in the Appalachian fold and thrust belt and coincides with the depth of the 450°C isotherm predicted by conductive cooling models for the thermal evolution of the early Paleozoic southern Laurentian rifted continental margin. The thick crust in the eastern Ouachitas results in lithosphere that is anomalously weak for rifted continental crust of this age. The thicker crust is attributed to an eastward transition from a rift segment to a transform segment of the Paleozoic continental margin. A layered density model derived from the gravity data shows that strata interpreted to be deformed Ouachita facies rocks are thickest in the eastern Ouachitas and are consistent with a greater amount of shortening in the central thrust belt in Arkansas as compared to Oklahoma. The opposite relationship is observed in the frontal Ouachita province, where shortening appears greater in Oklahoma. The cross-strike changes in the locus of shortening, crustal thickness, flexural rigidity, and the inferred transition from rift to transform segments of the early Paleozoic continental margin all coincide with the location of a previously hypothesized zone of diffuse right-lateral shear located at the western end of the Benton uplift. Flexural modeling indicates that the load required to produce the observed Bouguer gravity low in the Arkoma foreland basin trends parallel to the Benton and Broken Bow uplifts but is located 114 to 276 km farther south. In the western Ouachitas, the position of the load coincides with the northern edge of the Sabine uplift and is interpreted to mark the southern extent of Ouachita facies rocks that were emplaced on the Laurentian continental margin and/or attached remnant oceanic crust.

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