Abstract

Accurate information on the timing of earliest marine incursion into the Gulf of California (northwestern México) is critical for paleogeographic models and for understanding the spatial and temporal evolution of strain accommodation across the obliquely divergent Pacific–North America plate boundary. Marine strata exposed on southwest Isla Tiburón (SWIT) have been cited as evidence for a middle Miocene marine incursion into the Gulf of California at least 7 m.y. prior to plate boundary localization ca. 6 Ma. A middle Miocene interpretation for SWIT marine deposits has played a large role in subsequent interpretations of regional tectonics and rift evolution, the ages of marine basins containing similar fossil assemblages along ∼1300 km of the plate boundary, and the timing of marine incursion into the Gulf of California. We report new detailed geologic mapping and geochronologic data from the SWIT basin, an elongate sedimentary basin associated with deformation along the dextral-oblique La Cruz fault. We integrate these results with previously published biostratigraphic and geochronologic data to bracket the age of marine deposits in the SWIT basin and show that they have a total maximum thickness of ∼300 m. The 6.44 ± 0.05 Ma (Ar/Ar) tuff of Hast Pitzcal is an ash-flow tuff stratigraphically below the oldest marine strata, and the 6.01 ± 0.20 Ma (U/Pb) tuff of Oyster Amphitheater, also an ash-flow tuff, is interbedded with marine conglomerate near the base of the marine section. A dike-fed rhyodacite lava flow that caps all marine strata yields ages of 3.51 ± 0.05 Ma (Ar/Ar) and 4.13 ± 0.09 Ma (U/Pb) from the base of the flow, consistent with previously reported ages of 4.16 ± 1.81 Ma (K-Ar) from the flow top and (K-Ar) 3.7 ± 0.9 Ma from the feeder dike. Our new results confirm a latest Miocene to early Pliocene age for the SWIT marine basin, consistent with previously documented latest Miocene to early Pliocene (ca. 6.2–4.3 Ma) planktonic and benthic foraminifera from this section. Results from biostratigraphy and geochronology thus constrain earliest marine deposition on SWIT to ca. 6.2 ± 0.2 Ma, coincident with a regional-scale latest Miocene marine incursion into the northern proto–Gulf of California. This regional marine incursion flooded the northernmost, >500-km-long portion of the Gulf of California shear zone, a narrow belt of localized strike-slip faulting, clockwise block rotation, and subsiding pull-apart basins. Oblique Pacific–North America relative plate motion gradually localized in the >1000-km-long Gulf of California shear zone ca. 9–6 Ma, subsequently permitting the punctuated south to north flooding of the incipient Gulf of California seaway.

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