The Coast Range ophiolite (CRO) in northern California includes two distinct remnants. The Elder Creek ophiolite is a classic suprasubduction zone ophiolite with three sequential plutonic suites (layered gabbro, wehrlit-pyroxenite, quartz diorite), a mafic to felsic dike complex, and mafic-felsic volcanic rocks; the entire suite is cut by late mid-oceanic-ridge basalt (MORB) dikes and overlain by ophiolitic breccia. The Stonyford volcanic complex (SFVC) comprises three volcanic series with intercalated chert horizons that form a submarine volcano enclosed in sheared serpentinite. Structurally below this seamount are mélange blocks of CRO similar to Elder Creek.

U/Pb zircon ages from plagiogranite and quartz diorites at Elder Creek range in age from 165 Ma to 172 Ma. U/Pb zircon ages obtained from CRO mélange blocks below the SFVC are similar (166–172 Ma). 40Ar-39Ar ages of alkali basalt glass in the upper SFVC are all younger at ≈164 Ma. Radiolarians extracted from chert lenses intercalated with basalt in the SFVC indicate that the sedimentary strata range in age from Bathonian (Unitary Association Zone 6–6 of Baumgartner et al., 1995a) near the base of the complex to late Callovian to early Kimmeridgian (Unitary Association Zones 8–10) in the upper part. The SFVC sedimentary record preserves evidence of a major faunal change wherein relatively small sized, polytaxic radiolarian faunas were replaced by very robust, oligo-taxic, nassellarian-dominated faunas that included Praeparvicingula spp.

We suggest that CRO formation began after the early Middle Jurassic (172–180 Ma) collision of an exotic or fringing arc with North America and initiation of a new or reconfigured east-dipping subduction zone. The data show that the CRO formed prior to the Late Jurassic Nevadan orogeny, probably by rapid forearc extension above a nascent subduction zone. We infer that CRO spreading ended with the collision of an oceanic spreading center ca. 164 Ma, coincident with the oldest high-grade blocks in the structurally underlying Franciscan assemblage. We further suggest that the “classic” Nevadan orogeny represents a response to spreading center collision, with shallow subduction of young lithosphere causing the initial compressional deformation and with a subsequent change in North American plate motion to rapid northward drift (J2 cusp) causing sinistral transpression and transtension in the Sierra foothills. These data are not consistent with models for Late Jurassic arc collision in the Sierra foothills or a backarc origin for the CRO.

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