Skip Links

USGS - science for a changing world

Open-File Report 02-490

Correlation of the Klamath Mountains and Sierra Nevada

By W.P. Irwin

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (940 kB)Abstract

This report graphically portrays the broadly parallel tectonic development of the Klamath Mountains and Sierra Nevada from early Paleozoic to Early Cretaceous time. It is dedicated to J.S. Diller of the U.S. Geological Survey who, during his pioneer field studies a century ago, recognized significant similarities between these two important provinces. The report is based mainly on the numerous published reports of the field and laboratory studies by various geologists and students during the last century, and to a lesser extent on my own field work which has been substantial in the Klamath Mountains but minimal in the Sierra Nevada. For brevity, required by the format of this report, little of the extensive literature pertaining to these two provinces is referenced. This report is preliminary in nature and was prepared as an aid to further study of the tectonic relations between the Klamath Mountains and Sierra Nevada. This report consists of two sheets: Sheet 1, Map showing accreted terranes and plutons of the Klamath Mountains and Sierra Nevada, and Sheet 2, Successive accretionary episodes of the Klamath mountains and northern part of Sierra Nevada, showing related plutonic, volcanic, and metamorphic events. The map on Sheet 1 was compiled and modified from two Open-File maps (Irwin and Wooden, 1999 and 2001) which had been compiled and modified mainly from Jennings (1977), Harwood (1992), Irwin (1994), Jayko (1988), Graymer and Jones (1994), Edelman and Sharp (1989), Schweickert and others (1999), Saucedo and Wagner(1992), Saleeby and Sharp (1980), Wagner and others (1981), and various other sources. For detailed lists of the sources for the isotopic age data used in Sheets 1 and 2, see Irwin and Wooden (1999 and 2001). On Sheet 2, the accretionary episodes are shown sequentially from left to right in two tiers of figures. Episodes for the Klamath Mountains are in the upper tier; correlative episodes of the Sierra Nevada are directly below in the lower tier. The sequence shown for the Klamath Mountains is modified from Irwin and Mankinen (1998) and Irwin and Wooden (1999). The episodes are named for the accreting terranes of the Klamath Mountains, but those names may not be suitable for reference to the correlative episodes of the Sierra Nevada. In the figure for each episode, a heavy black line represents the active suture that separated oceanic crustal rocks on the left from the earlier accreted terranes on the right. Plutons are particularly useful for timing the accretionary episodes. The preaccretionary plutons, which commonly represent the roots of oceanic volcanic arcs, are shown in the accreting oceanic crustal rocks to the left of the heavy black line. The accretionary plutons consist of rock that has been subducted and remobilized as magma during the accretionary process and injected into an overlying earlier accreted terrane on the right of the heavy black line. Thus, isotopic dating of the accretionary plutons (preferably U/Pb dates measured on zircon extracted from the plutonic rock) provides a useful basis for assigning ages to the accretionary episodes. Many plutons are rootless at depth, as they tend to be truncated by the subduction zone sutures of younger accreting terranes. Volcanic deposits resulting from accretionary episodes apparently are uncommon except for those deposited on the backstop terranes. In the Klamath Mountains, the Eastern Klamath terrane, which consists of the Yreka, Trinity and Redding subterranes, was the backstop for the Central Metamorphic and younger accretionary episodes, and displays a remarkable record of sedimentation, volcanism and plutonism from Silurian-Devonian to Jurassic time. In the Sierra Nevada, the correlative backstop was the Northern Sierra terrane which shows a similar long record of volcanism in the Taylorsville, Permian, and Jurassic volcanic arc sequences. During some accretionary episodes the subducting oceanic rocks were dynamically metamorphosed to schist along the suture zone beneath the overriding accreted terranes. Examples of this in the Klamath Mountains are the Devonian Salmon and Abrams Schists of the Central Metamorphic terrane, the Triassic(?) schist of the Fort Jones terrane , and the Early Cretaceous South Fork Mountain Schist that structurally underlies Klamath Mountains terranes along much of the western edge of the province. The Fort Jones terrane and South Fork Mountains Schist were metamorphosed under blueschist-facies conditions. In the Sierra Nevada, schist that is correlative with the Central Metamorphic terrane is present in patches along the Feather River terrane (see Hacker and Peacock, 1990); the Triassic(?) Red Ant Schist is correlative with the Fort Jones terrane; but a correlative of the South Fork Mountain Schist is not present. In addition to the similarities in the sequences of accretion, plutonism, volcanism, and metamorphism, strong ties between the two provinces are also provided by paleontologic data. The Permian McCloud fusulinid fauna of the Redding subterrane also is present in the Northern Sierra terrane. Rare Tethyan fusulinids are found in Permian limestone of the Eastern Hayfork terrane of the Klamath Mountains and also in limestone blocks in the Central Belt of the Sierra Nevada. Ichthyosaur fossils have been collected from the Triassic of both the Redding subterrane and Northern Sierra terrane. Jurassic ammonites and the pelecypod Buchia concentrica occur in both the Galice Formation of the western Klamath Mountains and the Mariposa Formation of the western Sierra Nevada. Events that preceded the Central Metamorphic episode prior to Silurian-Devonian time are not clearly understood and are not shown in the succession of diagrams on Sheet 2. The oldest rocks of the Klamath Mountains are Neoproterozic and they predate the Central Metamorphic episode by possibly a hundred million years or more. They include ophiolitic rocks of the Trinity subterrane and the Antelope Mountain Quartzite of the Yreka subterrane (see Mankinen and others, 2002). In the Sierra Nevada, correlatives of the ancient ophiolitic rocks may be part of the Feather River terrane. Although Neoproterozoic fossils have not yet been found in the Sierra Nevada, petrologic study shows the quartzite of the Lang sequence is closely similar to the Antelope Mountain Quartzite (see Bond and Devay, 1980). Correlation of the two quartzite formations is also suggested by the similarity of their positions in the accretionary sequence.

First posted February 7, 2003

The National Geologic Map Database has additional data about this publication

For additional information, contact:
Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 901
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3591

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). For best results viewing and printing PDF documents, it is recommended that you download the documents to your computer and open them with Adobe Reader. PDF documents opened from your browser may not display or print as intended. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Irwin, William P., 2003, Correlation of the Klamath Mountains and Sierra Nevada: U. S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 02-490,

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Page Last Modified: Wednesday, December 07, 2016, 07:27:53 PM