Assembling the world's type shallow subduction complex: Detrital zircon geochronologic constraints on the origin of the Nacimiento block, central California Coast Ranges

Alan D. Chapman, Carl E. Jacobson, W. G. Ernst, Marty Grove, Trevor Dumitru, Jeremy Hourigan, Mihai N. Ducea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Temporal and spatial patterns in the architecture of the Franciscan Complex provide valuable insights into the subduction processes through which such patterns arise. The Nacimiento Franciscan belt is an allochthonous sliver of subduction assemblages in the central California Coast Ranges displaced either: (1) from southern California by > 300 km of Neogene dextral slip along the San Andreas fault system or (2) from central California to southern California and back again, by > 500 km of Late Cretaceous-Paleocene sinistral slip along the Sur-Nacimiento fault followed by San Andreas-related motion. New U-Pb detrital zircon data from 20 (meta)clastic samples indicate that the Nacimiento Franciscan section was assembled between ca. 95 and 80 Ma. Abundant Cretaceous (particularly Late Cretaceous) and diminishing amounts of Jurassic and Proterozoic zircon grains point to a southern California origin for Nacimiento Franciscan protoliths, precluding significant sinistral strike-slip along the Sur-Nacimiento fault. Furthermore, the suite of detrital zircon ages reported here bears a strong resemblance to new and existing data from subduction complexes in southern California that were emplaced during Laramide shallow subduction (i.e., Sierra de Salinas, Portal Ridge, Quartz Hill, Rand, San Emigdio, and Tehachapi schists). Hence, the Nacimiento Franciscan is distinct from Franciscan rocks in central and northern California and more likely represents an outboard element of the Late Cretaceous southern California low-angle subduction system. Upon restoring the Nacimiento block to its Late Cretaceous position, an inboard-younging trend is apparent in the composite Nacimiento-southern California schist belt, suggesting that progressively younger accretionary materials were underplated farther inboard by tectonic erosion. We posit that arc and forearc elements absent from southern California were removed by a combination of physical and tectonic erosion attending shallow subduction, interleaved in the subduction complex, and recycled into the mantle. Steepening of the Laramide slab was marked by a phase of crustal extension in the overriding plate. During this phase, the Sur-Nacimiento fault likely functioned as a segment of a low-angle normal fault system spanning the southern Sierra Nevada batholith to the Nacimiento accretionary system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-557
Number of pages25
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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