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The thermochronology for several suites of Mesozoic metamorphic and plutonic rocks collected throughout the northern Peninsular Ranges batholith (PRB) was studied as part of a collaborative isotopic study to further our understanding of the magmatic and tectonic history of southern California. These sample suites include: a traverse through the plutonic rocks across the northern PRB (N = 29), a traverse across a central structural and metamorphic transition zone of mainly metasedimentary rocks at Searl ridge (N = 20), plutonic samples from several drill cores (N = 7) and surface samples (N = 2) from the Los Angeles Basin, a traverse across the Eastern Peninsular Ranges mylonite zone (N = 6), and a suite of plutonic samples collected across the northern PRB (N = 13) from which only biotite 40Ar/39Ar ages were obtained. These geochronologic data help to characterize five major petrologic, geochemical, and isotopic zonations of the PRB (western zone, WZ; western transition zone, WTZ; eastern transition zone, ETZ; eastern zone, EZ; and upper-plate zone, UPZ).

Apparent cooling rates were calculated using U-Pb zircon (zr) and titanite (sphene) ages; 40Ar/39Ar ages from hornblende (hbl), biotite (bi), and K-feldspar (Kf); and apatite fission-track (AFT) ages from the same samples. The apparent cooling rates across the northern PRB vary from relatively rapid in the west (zr-hbl ~210 °C/m.y.; zr-bio ~160 °C/m.y.; zr-Kf ~80 °C/m.y.) to less rapid in the central (zr-hb ~280 °C/m.y.; zr-bio ~90 °C/m.y.; zr-Kf ~60 °C/m.y.) and eastern (zr-hbl ~185 °C/m.y.; zr-bio ~180 °C/m.y.; zr-Kf ~60 °C/m.y.) zones. An exception in the eastern zone, the massive San Jacinto pluton, appears to have cooled very rapidly (zr-bio ~385 °C/m.y.). Apparent cooling rates for the UPZ samples are consistently slower in comparison (~25–45 °C/m.y.), regardless of which geochronometers are used.

Notable characteristics of the various ages from different dating methods include: (1) Zircon ages indicate a progressive younging of magmatic activity from west to east between ca. 125 and 90 Ma. (2) Various geochronometers were apparently affected by emplacement of the voluminous (ETZ and EZ) La Posta–type plutons emplaced between 99 and 91 Ma. Those minerals affected include K-feldspar in the western zone rocks, biotite and K-feldspar in the WTZ rocks, and white mica and K-feldspar in rocks from Searl ridge. (3) The AFT ages record the time the rocks cooled through the AFT closure temperature (~100 °C in these rocks), likely due to exhumation. Throughout most of the northern traverse, the apatite data indicate the rocks cooled relatively quickly through the apatite partial annealing zone (PAZ; from ~110 °C to 60 °C) and remained at temperatures less than 60 °C as continued exhumation cooled them to present-day surface temperatures. The ages indicate that the western “arc” terrane of the WZ was being uplifted and cooled at ca. 91 Ma, during or shortly after intrusion of the 99–91 Ma La Posta–type plutons to the east. Uplift and cooling occurred later, between ca. 70 Ma and ca. 55 Ma, in the central WTZ, ETZ, and EZ rocks, possibly as upwarping in response to events in the UPZ. The UPZ experienced differential exhumation at ca. 50–35 Ma: Cooling on the western edge was taking place at about the same time or shortly after cooling in the younger samples in the ETZ and EZ, whereas on the east side of the UPZ, the rocks cooled later (ca. 35 Ma) and spent a prolonged time in the apatite PAZ compared to most northern traverse samples.

Apparent cooling rates from Los Angeles Basin drill core samples of plutonic rocks show that four are similar to the WTZ thermal histories, and two are similar to the WTZ histories, indicating that the eastern part of the Los Angeles Basin area is underlain by mainly western zone PRB rocks.

Thermal histories revealed by samples from Searl ridge indicate that the WTZ magmatism intruded the metasedimentary rocks prior to their deformation and metamorphism at ca. 97 Ma. Both low-grade schists and metasandstones of the western side of the ridge and high-grade gneisses of the eastern side of the ridge have thermal histories consistent with eastern zone rocks—suggesting a temporal/thermal relationship between the western transition zone and the eastern zones.

Limited ages from six samples across the Eastern Peninsular Ranges mylonite zone (EPRMZ) indicate that this zone underwent cooling after emplacement of the youngest UPZ rocks at 85 Ma, suggesting that thrusting along the EPRMZ was either coeval with emplacement of the UPZ plutonic rocks or occurred shortly afterwards (~10–15 m.y.). Alternatively, the EPRMZ thrusting may have occurred at temperatures under ~180 °C at yet a later date.

The geochronology presented here differs slightly from previous studies for similar rocks exposed across the middle and southern portions of the PRB, in that our data define a relatively smooth progression of magmatism from west to east, and the transition from western, oceanic-arc plutonism to eastern, continental arc plutonism is interpreted to have occurred at ca. 99–97 Ma and not at ca. 105 Ma.

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