The northwest margin of the California continental borderland consists mainly of two northwest-trending pre-Neogene lithologic belts blanketed by Miocene and younger strata. These belts, which are lithologically and structurally correlated with the Franciscan Complex and Great Valley sequence of northern California, are interpreted to represent facies corresponding to the subduction complex and forearc-basin deposits of a late Mesozoic and Paleogene continental-margin arc-trench system. The outer belt, which forms the acoustic basement underlying the continental slope and Patton Ridge, is characterized by: (1) moderately high compressional velocities (5.1 to 6.2 km/sec), (2) discordant and discontinuous seismic reflectors, and (3) nonfossiliferous and diverse rock types that range in metamorphic grade from zeolite-bearing arkosic sandstone to blueschist. Landward, the inner Great Valley sequence belt underlies Santa Rosa-Cortes Ridge and Santa Cruz and San Nicolas Basins; in contrast to the outer belt, this belt is characterized by: (1) intermediate compressional velocities (4.5 to 4.6 km/sec), (2) concordant and relatively continuous reflectors, and (3) a thick turbidite sequence of relatively undeformed and unmetamorphosed fossiliferous Cretaceous and Paleogene strata. The inner belt overlies a 6.6-km/sec layer that is probably oceanic crust, a relation consistent with the hypothesis that trapped old oceanic crust underlies the forearc basins along parts of some convergent margins.
Well-developed wrench-fault structures in overlying Miocene strata record a transition from Paleogene subduction to Neogene transform faulting. Related events include widespread andesitic to dacitic volcanism and concurrent uplift and erosion of Miocene and older rocks. The proximity of these Miocene silicic volcanic rocks to the paleotrench (< 20 km) is best explained as resulting from passage of the southward-migrating Rivera ridge-fault-trench triple junction along the margin. On the basis of the age of the adjacent sea floor, passage of this triple junction occurred about 17 m.y. ago, a date that corresponds closely to the inception of volcanism and uplift in the northwest margin of the borderland. A widespread unconformity that separates highly deformed lower and lower middle Miocene strata from relatively undeformed younger strata is assumed to mark the subsequent onset of wrench faulting.
The timing of volcanism and uplift, and of the slightly younger wrenching event, closely matches the platetectonic model of Atwater and Molnar if the northwest margin of the borderland is restored to an earlier tectonic setting off Baja California, approximately 260 km southeast of its present position.