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Detrital zircon geochronology and evolution of the Nacimiento block late Mesozoic forearc basin, central California coast

Scott M. Johnston
Scott M. Johnston
Physics Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California 93407, USA
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Andrew R.C. Kylander-Clark
Andrew R.C. Kylander-Clark
Department of Earth Science, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA
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Alan D. Chapman
Alan D. Chapman
Geology Department, Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota 55105, USA
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Publication history
05 February 201815 October 2018


Forearc basins are first-order products of convergent-margin tectonics, and their sedimentary deposits offer unique perspectives on coeval evolution of adjacent arcs and subduction complexes. New detrital zircon U-Pb geochronologic data from 23 sandstones and 11 individual conglomerate clasts sampled from forearc basin strata of the Nacimiento block, an enigmatic stretch of the Cordilleran forearc exposed along the central California coast, place constraints on models for forearc deformation during evolution of the archetypical Cordilleran Mesozoic margin. Deposition and provenance of the Nacimiento forearc developed in three stages: (1) Late Jurassic– Valanginian deposition of lower Nacimiento forearc strata with zircon derived from the Jurassic–Early Cretaceous arc mixed with zircon recycled from Neoproterozoic– Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary sources typical of the continental interior; (2) erosion or depositional hiatus from ca. 135 to 110 Ma; and (3) Albian–Santonian deposition of upper Nacimiento forearc strata with zircon derived primarily from the Late Cretaceous arc, accompanied by Middle Jurassic zircon during the late Albian–Cenomanian. These data are most consistent with sedimentary source terranes and a paleogeographic origin for the Nacimiento block south of the southern San Joaquin Basin in southern California or northernmost Mexico.

This interpreted paleogeographic and depositional history of the Nacimiento block has several implications for the tectonic evolution of the southern California Mesozoic margin. First, the Nacimiento forearc depositional history places new timing constraints on the Early Cretaceous unconformity found in forearc basin strata from the San Joaquin Valley to Baja California. This timing constraint suggests a model in which forearc basin accommodation space was controlled by accretionary growth of the adjacent subduction complex, and where tectonic events in the forearc and the arc were linked through sediment supply rather than through orogenic-scale wedge dynamics. Second, a paleogeographic origin for the Nacimiento forearc south of the southern San Joaquin Valley places new constraints on end-member models for the kinematic evolution of the Sur-Nacimiento fault. Although this new paleogeographic reconstruction cannot distinguish between sinistral strike-slip and thrust models, it requires revision of existing sinistral-slip models for the Sur-Nacimiento fault, and it highlights unresolved problems with the thrust model.

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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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