Regional crustal structure and tectonics of the Pacific Coastal States: California, Oregon, and Washington

GSA Memoirs
By:  and 



The Pacific Coastal States form a complex geologic environment in which the crust and lithosphere have been continuously reworked. We divide the region tectonically into the southern transform regime of the San Andreas fault and the northern subduction regime, and summarize the geophysical framework with contour maps of crustal thickness, lithospheric and seismicity cross sections, and results from site-specific geophysical studies. The uniformity of crustal thickness (30 ± 2 km) in southern California is remarkable, and appears to be primarily the result of crustal extension in the Mojave Desert and ductile shear of the lower crust along the plate transform boundary. Southern California seismicity defines a broad zone of deformation that extends from the Borderland to the Mojave Desert (about 300 km). The geophysical framework of central and northern California records magmatism and accretion associated with the Mesozoic and Cenozoic subduction, late Cenozoic transform faulting, and in the Basin and Range to the east, extension. The crust thickens from about 20 km at the coast to as much as 55 km in the Sierra Nevada, and thins to about 30 km in the Basin and Range. Cross sections of the crust show that seismic velocities and densities vary significantly over short distances perpendicular to the coast, reflecting processes that include the accretion of oceanic sediments and igneous crust, and significant lateral motion of crustal blocks. Maximum hypocentral depths in central California become deeper as the crust thickens to the west, but seismicity is low beneath the Great Valley and Sierra Nevada, which together appear to form a relatively undeforming block. The lower crust of the Pacific Coastal States has a high average seismic velocity (6.7 km/sec or greater), which probably is the product of tectonic underplating of oceanic crust and/or magmatic underplating by a basaltic melt.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Regional crustal structure and tectonics of the Pacific Coastal States: California, Oregon, and Washington
Series title GSA Memoirs
DOI 10.1130/MEM172-p129
Volume 172
Year Published 1989
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 33 p.
First page 129
Last page 161
Country United States
State California, Oregon, Washington
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