The Peninsular Ranges Batholith: An insight into the evolution of the Cordilleran batholiths of southwestern North America

L. T. Silver, B. W. Chappell

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    The Peninsular Ranges Batholith of southern and Baja California is the largest segment of a Cretaceous magmatic arc that was once continuous from northern California to southern Baja California. In this batholith, the emplacement of igneous rocks took place during a single sequence of magmatic activity, unlike many of the other components of the Cordilleran batholiths which formed during successive separate magmatic episodes. Detailed radiometric dating has shown that it is a composite of two batholiths. A western batholith, which was more heterogeneous in composition, formed as a static magmatic arc between 140 and 105 Ma and was intrusive in part into related volcanic rocks. The eastern batholith formed as a laterally transgressing arc which moved away from those older rocks between 105 and 80 Ma, intruding metasedimentary rocks. Rocks of the batholith range from undersaturated gabbros through to felsic granites, but tonalite is the most abundant rock throughout. Perhaps better than elsewhere in the Cordillera, the batholith shows beautifully developed asymmetries in chemical and isotopic properties. The main gradients in chemical composition from W to E are found among the trace elements, with Ba, Sr, Nb and the light rare earth elements increasing by more than a factor of two, and P, Rb, Pb, Th, Zn and Ga showing smaller increases. Mg and the transition metals decrease strongly towards the E, with Sc, V and Cu falling to less than half of their value in the most westerly rocks. Oxygen becomes very systematically more enriched in18O from W to E and the Sr, Nd and Pb isotopic systems change progressively from mantle values in the W to a more evolved character on the eastern side of the batholith. In detail the petrogenesis of the Peninsular Ranges Batholith is not completely understood, but many general aspects of the origin are clear. The exposed rocks, particularly in the western batholith, closely resemble those of present day island arcs, although the most typical and average tonalitic composition is distinctly more felsic than the mean quartz diorite or mafic andesite composition of arcs. Chemical and isotopic properties of the western part of the batholith indicate that it formed as the root of a primitive island arc on oceanic lithosphere at a convergent plate margin. Further E, the plutonic rocks appear to have been derived by partial melting from deeper sources of broadly basaltic composition at subcrustal levels. The compositional systematics of the batholith do not reflect a simple mixing of various end-members but are a reflection of the differing character of the source regions laterally and vertically away from the pre-Cretaceous continental margin.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)105-121
    Number of pages17
    JournalTransactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences
    Issue number2-3
    Publication statusPublished - 1988


    • asymmetry
    • Baja California
    • California
    • Cretaceous
    • gabbro
    • geochemistry
    • geochronology
    • granite
    • granodiorite
    • isotopes
    • petrogenesis
    • plutonic
    • plutonic arc
    • tonalite


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