Late Cretaceous-early Cenozoic tectonic evolution of the southern California margin inferred from provenance of trench and forearc sediments

Carl E. Jacobson, Marty Grove, Jane N. Pedrick, Andrew P. Barth, Kathleen M. Marsaglia, George E. Gehrels, Jonathan A. Nourse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


During the Late Cretaceous to early Cenozoic, southern California was impacted by two anomalous tectonic events: (1) under-plating of the oceanic Pelona-Orocopia-Rand schists beneath North American arc crust and craton; and (2) removal of the western margin of the arc and inner part of the forearc basin along the Nacimiento fault. The Pelona-Orocopia-Rand schists crop out along a belt extending from the southern Sierra Nevada to southwestern Arizona. Protolith and emplacement ages decrease from >90 Ma in the northwest to <60 Ma in the southeast. Detrital zircon U-Pb ages imply that meta-sandstones in the older schists originated primarily from the western belt of the Sierran-Peninsular Ranges arc. Younger units were apparently derived by erosion of progressively more inboard regions, including the southwestern edge of the North American craton. The oldest Pelona-Orocopia-Rand schists overlap in age and provenance with the youngest part of the Catalina Schist of the southern California inner continental borderland, suggesting that the two units are broadly correlative. The Pelona-Orocopia-Rand-Catalina schists, in turn, share a common provenance with forearc sequences of southern California and the associated Salinian and Nacimiento blocks of the central Coast Ranges. This observation is most readily explained if the schists were derived from trench sediments complementary to the forearc basin. The schists and forearc units are inferred to record an evolution from normal subduction prior to the early Late Cretaceous to flat subduction extending into the early Cenozoic. The transition from outboard to inboard sediment sources appears to have coincided with removal of arc and forearc terranes along the Nacimiento fault, which most likely involved either thrusting or sinistral strike slip. The strike-slip interpretation has not been widely accepted but can be understood in terms of tectonic escape driven by subduction of an aseismic ridge, and it provides a compelling explanation for the progressively younger ages of the Pelona-Orocopia-Rand schists from northwest to southeast.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-506
Number of pages22
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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