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Mountain Building Across a Lithospheric Boundary During Arc Construction: The Cretaceous Peninsular Ranges Batholith in the Sierra San Pedro Martir of Baja California, Mexico
Science Direct (2009)
  • K L Schmidt, Lewis-Clark State College
  • S R Paterson, University of Southern California
  • Ann Blythe, Occidental College
  • C Kopf, Mansfield University

The Jura-Cretaceous Peninsular Ranges batholith (PRB) of Southern and Baja California contains a remarkable example of variation in crustal composition and structure across a batholith-parallel lithospheric-scale discontinuity. This lithospheric boundary between western oceanic-floored and eastern continental-floored crust influenced contractional deformation, arc magmatism, and differential exhumation of western and eastern zones in the batholith during its evolution. In the Sierra San Pedro Martir of Baja California, Mexico, a ca. 20 km wide, doubly vergent fan structure occurs across the PRB basement transition that consists of inward-dipping mylonite thrust sheets on the sides of the fan that gradually transition to a steeply-dipping tectonized zone in the center. A dramatic inverted metamorphic gradient occurs on the western side of this structure where mid-crustal amphibolite metamorphic grade rocks with peak pressures of 5–6 kbar in the center of the fan were thrust over upper-crustal sub-greenschist grade rocks (peak pressures < 2 kbar) in the western zone footwall. An inverted but smaller gradient occurs on the eastern side of the structure where rocks of the fan interior have been thrust eastwards over amphibolite to upper greenschist grade rocks (peak pressures 4–5 kbar). Gradients in cooling ages determined by 40Ar/39Ar biotite and K-feldspar and apatite fission track methods coupled with U–Pb zircon ages and Al in hornblende thermobarometry studies on plutons across this zone indicate that structures focused along the transition zone between contrasting lithosphere in the PRB accommodated nearly 15 km of the differential exhumation of western and eastern basement in the orogen. The western zone of the batholith was a major forearc depo-center for thick clastic sequences derived from the uplifting eastern PRB and remained at low average elevation during the Late Cretaceous and Paleogene. In contrast the eastern zone experienced dramatic uplift subsequent to achieving a crustal thickness in excess of 55 km by mid-Cretaceous time. This region had the isostatic potential for 4–5 km surface elevations, and likely formed a topographically high orogenic plateau. Exhumation of the fan structure initiated after 100 Ma and was largely complete by 85 Ma. Eastward-migrating unroofing of the rest of the eastern PRB continued into the Paleogene. A variety of factors were responsible for exhumation in this region. Structural thickening of the eastern zone of the orogen resulted from more than 30 million years of episodic contractional deformation in the fan structure, much of which followed island arc accretion of the western zone along this segment of the batholith. An episode of voluminous magmatism involving the intrusion of the 99–92 Ma La Posta-type magmatic suite across the eastern zone of the PRB triggered exhumation in the fan structure. Denudation in this region appears to have been solely by erosion; no evidence has been found for extensional tectonics during this time. This arc orogen demonstrates the important influence of inherited tectonic boundaries in controlling the spatial distribution of structural thickening and magmatism. It also displays the complex interrelationships among structural thickening, exhumation, and the role of magmatism in triggering exhumation episodes within orogens.

Publication Date
April 24, 2009
Citation Information
K L Schmidt, S R Paterson, Ann Blythe and C Kopf. "Mountain Building Across a Lithospheric Boundary During Arc Construction: The Cretaceous Peninsular Ranges Batholith in the Sierra San Pedro Martir of Baja California, Mexico" Science Direct Vol. 477 Iss. 3-4 (2009)
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