Late cretaceous gravitational collapse of the southern sierra nevada batholith, California

Alan D. Chapman, Jason B. Saleeby, David J. Wood, Alison Piasecki, Steven Kidder, Mihai N. Ducea, Kenneth A. Farley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


The Sierra Nevada batholith is an ~600-km-long, NNW-trending composite arc assemblage consisting of a myriad of plutons exhibiting a distinct transverse zonation in structural, petrologic, geochronologic, and isotopic patterns. This zonation is most clearly expressed by a west-to-east variation from mafi c to felsic plutonic assemblages. South of 35.5°N, the depth of exposure increases markedly, and fragments of shallow-level eastern Sierra Nevada batholith affi nity rocks overlie deeper-level western zone rocks and subjacent subduction accretion assemblages along a major Late Cretaceous detachment system. The magnitude of displacement along this detachment system is assessed here by palinspastic reconstruction of vertical piercing points provided by batholithic and metamorphic pendant structure and stratigraphy. Integration of new and published U-Pb zircon geochronologic, thermobarometric, (U-Th)/He thermochronometric, and geochemical data from plutonic and metamorphic framework assemblages in the southern Sierra Nevada batholith reveal seven potential correlations between dispersed crustal fragments and the Sierra Nevada batholith autochthon. Each correlation suggests at least 50 km of south- to southwest-directed transport and tectonic excision of ~5-10 km of crust along the Late Cretaceous detachment system. The timing and pattern of regional dispersion of crustal fragments in the southern Sierra Nevada batholith is most consistent with Late Cretaceous collapse above the underplated accretionary complex. We infer, from data presented herein (1) a high degree of coupling between the shallow and deep crust during extension, and (2) that the development of modern landscape in southern California was greatly preconditioned by Late Cretaceous tectonics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-341
Number of pages28
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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