Magmatic growth and batholithic root development in the northern Sierra Nevada, California

M. R. Cecil, G. L. Rotberg, M. N. Ducea, J. B. Saleeby, G. E. Gehrels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


In contrast to the much-studied central and southern Sierra Nevada, relatively little is known about the growth and petro genesis of the batholith in its northern reaches, making it difficult to evaluate range-wide, spatiotemporal trends in batholithic development and the regional extent of eclogite root production and/or loss. New U-Pb ages from northern Sierra plutons reveal a shift between the age of Cretaceous magmatism recorded in the northern Sierra and the timing of an apparent flare-up in the main batholith, indicating that: (1) the northern batholith was more spatially dispersed and emplaced into regions beyond the modern topographic range, and (2) the Cretaceous high-flux event may have occurred over a longer period of time than previously suggested. Relative to the southern Sierra, Nd and Sr isotopic signatures in northern plutons are more primitive, mimicking the predominantly juvenile nature of the terranes into which the plutons are built. Despite differences in isotopic character, however, major and trace element trends are remarkably similar between northern plutons and the rest of the batholith, suggesting that emplacement into juvenile and/or oceanic lithosphere does not inhibit the generation of evolved, arc-type magmatic products. Northern plutons have relatively high La/Yb and Sr/Y and steep rare-earth element patterns, with small to no Eu anomalies. Taken together, these trends are interpreted to indicate deep processing of magmas in equilibrium with a feldspar-poor, amphibolite-rich residue, containing modest amounts of garnet. It is therefore likely that the northern Sierra Nevada batholith was emplaced into relatively thick crust and developed a dense mafic to ultramafic root. Because it is not seismically imaged today, we posit that the root was subsequently lost, perhaps in response to encroachment of proto-Cascade arc volcanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)592-606
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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