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Professional Paper 1669

Age and Tectonic Significance of Volcanic Rocks in the Northern Los Angeles Basin, California

By Thane H. McCulloh, Robert J. Fleck, Rodger E. Denison, Larry A. Beyer, and Richard G. Stanley

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.2 MB)Abstract

Volcanic rocks, mostly basalts and some andesites, are interbedded with middle Miocene strata and are overlain by younger rocks throughout the greater part of the Los Angeles Basin, California. Roughly correlative flows, previously dated radiometrically (or paleontologically) at about 16.4 to 10.7 Ma, crop out in five separate regions around the basin perimeter. Los Angeles Basin volcanic rocks have special meaning because they offer clues to tectonomagmatic events associated with onset of clockwise transrotation of the western Transverse Ranges region and to the timing and locus of the initial basin opening.

Whole-rock 40Ar/39Ar dating of near-tholeiitic olivine basalts of the Topanga Formation (Hoots, 1931) from three sites in the easternmost Santa Monica Mountains, combined with 87Sr/86Sr dating of fossil carbonates from interstratified marine beds at nine sites, establish a new age of 17.4 Ma for these oldest known Topanga-age volcanics of the Los Angeles Basin. We also record three new 40Ar/39Ar ages (15.3 Ma) from andesitic flows of the lower Glendora Volcanics at the northeast edge of the basin, 70 km east of the Santa Monica Mountains. A whole-rock determination of 17.2±0.5 Ma for nearby altered olivine basalt in the unfossiliferous Glendora volcanic sequence is questionable because of a complex 40Ar/39Ar age spectrum suggestive of 39Ar recoil, but it may indicate an older volcanic unit in this eastern area.

We hypothesize that the 17.4-Ma volcanics in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains are an early expression of deep crustal magmatism accompanying the earliest extensional tectonism associated with rifting. The extremely thick younger volcanic pile in the western and central parts of the range may suggest that this early igneous activity in the eastern area was premonitory. Paleomagnetic declination data are needed to determine the pre-transrotational orientation of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains volcanic sequence. The new age determinations do not yield unequivocal support for either of two proposed explanations of possible age trends of Miocene volcanic rocks in southern California but underscore the need for further work.

First posted March 26, 2003

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

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Suggested citation:

McCulloh, Thane Hubert, Fleck, Robert J., Denison, Rodger E., Beyer, Larry A., Stanley, Richard G., 2002, Age and Tectonic Significance of Volcanic Rocks in the Northern Los Angeles Basin, California: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1669, 24 pp.,




Topanga Formation of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains

Ages of Topanga volcanics in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains

Age of the oldest Glendora Volcanics

Other Los Angeles Basin volcanic rocks

Discussion, conclusions, and recommendations



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