On Santa Catalina Island, blueschist is structurally overlain by glaucophanic greenschist, which is overlain in turn by a unit of amphibolite and ultramafic rock. These three units are juxtaposed along sub-horizontal postmetamorphic thrusts; tectonic blocks of amphibolite are distributed along the thrust between the greenschist and the blueschist. Physical conditions of metamorphism are estimated to be approximately 300°C and 9 kb for blueschist, 450°C and 8 kb for greenschist, and 600°C and 10 kb for amphibolite. I suggest that metamorphism occurred in a newly started subduction zone, where an inverted thermal gradient developed below the hot hanging-wall peridotite. Postmetamorphic eastward underthrusting along surfaces of varying dip can explain the present structural relationships.
Tectonic blocks of glaucophane-epidote schist, amphibolite, and eclogite elsewhere in the Franciscan Complex may be disrupted remnants of similar metamorphic zones. The inverted thermal gradient will only exist in the early stages of subduction, which explains why the blocks are the oldest rocks in the Franciscan Complex.
The gross decrease in age and metamorphic grade westward across the Franciscan results from successive underthrusting and accretion of progressively younger slices of supercrustal material, concurrent with uplift and erosion. Pressure-temperature (P-T) conditions of metamorphism in each east-dipping tectonic slice will increase down-dip. At any given time, older, more easterly slices will have been uplifted further, hence metamorphic grade in the exposed edges will increase eastward and structurally upward.
If erosion is faster than accretion for a time, younger slices will be metamorphosed at lower pressures than were the older higher ones. Simple reverse faulting can then produce the observed interleaving of rocks of different metamorphic grade.