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Review of mid-Mesozoic to Paleogene evolution of the northern and central Californian accretionary margin

W.G. Ernst
W.G. Ernst
Department of Geological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2115, USA
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Publication history
05 February 201802 October 2018


Spatial distributions of widespread igneous arc rocks and high-pressure–low-temperature (HP/LT) metamafic rocks, combined with U-Pb maximum ages of deposition from detrital zircon and petrofacies of Jurassic–Miocene clastic sedimentary rocks, constrain the geologic development of the northern and central Californian accretionary margin: (1) Before ca. 175 Ma, transpressive plate subduction initiated construction of a magmatic arc astride the Klamath-Sierran crustal margin. (2) Paleo-Pacific oceanic-plate rocks were recrystallized under HP/LT conditions in an east-dipping subduction zone beneath the arc at ca. 170–155 Ma. Stored at depth, these HP/LT metamafic blocks returned surfaceward mainly during mid- and Late Cretaceous time as olistoliths and tectonic fragments entrained in circulating, buoyant Franciscan mud-matrix mélange. (3) By ca. 165 Ma and continuing to at least ca. 150 Ma, erosion of the volcanic arc supplied upper-crustal debris to the Mariposa-Galice and Myrtle arc-margin strata. (4) By ca. 140 Ma, the Klamath salient had moved ~80–100 km westward relative to the Sierran arc, initiating a new, outboard convergent plate junction, and trapping old oceanic crust on the south as the Great Valley Ophiolite. (5) Following end-of-Jurassic development of a new Farallon–North American east-dipping plate junction, terrigenous debris began to accumulate as the seaward Franciscan trench complex and landward Great Valley Group plus Hornbrook forearc clastic rocks. (6) Voluminous deposition and accretion of Franciscan Eastern and Central belt and Great Valley Group detritus occurred during vigorous Sierran igneous activity attending rapid, nearly orthogonal plate subduction starting at ca. 125 Ma. (7) Although minor traces of Grenville-age detrital zircon occur in other sandstones studied in this report, they are absent from post–120 Ma Franciscan strata. (8) Sierra Nevada magmatism ceased by ca. 85 Ma, signaling transition to subhorizontal eastward underflow attending Laramide orogeny farther inland. (9) Exposed Paleogene Franciscan Coastal belt sandstone accreted in a tectonic realm unaffected by HP/LT recrystallization. (10) Judging by petrofacies and zircon U-Pb ages, Franciscan Eastern belt rocks contain clasts derived chiefly from the Sierran and Klamath ranges. Detritus from the Sierra Nevada ± Idaho batholiths is present in some Central belt strata, whereas clasts from the Idaho batholith, Challis volcanics, and Cascade igneous arc appear in progressively younger Paleogene Coastal belt sandstone.

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GSA Special Papers

Tectonics, Sedimentary Basins, and Provenance: A Celebration of the Career of William R. Dickinson

Geological Society of America
ISBN electronic:




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