The San Joaquin Valley, which is the southern part of the 700-km-long Great Valley of California, is an asymmetric structural trough that is filled with a prism of upper Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments up to 9 km thick; these sediments rest on crystalline basement rocks of the southwestward-tilted Sierran block. The San Joaquin sedimentary basin is separated from the Sacramento basin to the north by the buried Stockton arch and associated Stockton fault. The buried Bakersfield arch near the south end of the valley separates the small Maricopa-Tejon subbasin at the south end of the San Joaquin basin from the remainder of the basin. Cenozoic strata in the San Joaquin basin thicken southeastward from about 800 m in the north to over 9,000 m in the south.
The San Joaquin Valley can be subdivided into five regions on the basis of differing structural style. They are the northern Sierran block, the southern Sierran block, the northern Diablo homocline, the westside fold belt, and the combined Maricopa-Tejon subbasin and southmargin deformed belt. Considerable facies variation existed within the sedimentary basin, particularly in the Neogene when a thick section of marine sediment accumulated in the southern part of the basin, while a relatively thin and entirely nonmarine section was deposited in the northern part. The northern Sierran block, the stable east limb of the valley syncline between the Stockton fault and the San Joaquin River, is the least deformed region of the valley. Deformation consists mostly of a southwest tilt and only minor late Cenozoic normal faulting. The southern Sierran block, the stable east limb of the valley syncline between the San Joaquin River and the Bakersfield arch, is similar in style to the northern part of the block, but it has a higher degree of deformation. Miocene or older normal faults trend mostly north to northwest and have a net down-to-the-west displacement with individual offsets of as much as 600 m. The northern Diablo homocline, the western limb of the valley syncline between the Stockton arch and Panoche Creek, consists of a locally faulted homocline with northeast dips. Deformation is mostly late Cenozoic, is complex in its history, and has included up-to-the-southwest reverse faulting. The west-side fold belt, the southwestern part of the valley syncline between Panoche Creek and Elk Hills and including the southern Diablo and Temblor Ranges, is characterized by a series of folds and faults trending slightly oblique to the San Andreas fault. Paleogene folding took place in the northern part of the belt; however, most folding took place in Neogene time, during which the intensity of deformation increased southeastward along the belt and southwestward toward the San Andreas fault. The Maricopa-Tejon subbasin and the south-margin deformed belt are structurally distinct, but genetically related, regions bounded by the Bakersfield arch on the north, the San Emigdio Mountains on the south, the Tehachapi Mountains on the east, and the southeast end of the fold belt on the west. This combined region, which is the most deformed part of the basin, has undergone significant late Cenozoic shortening through north-directed thrust faulting at the south margin, as well as extreme Neogene basin subsidence north of the thrust belt.
The sedimentary history of the San Joaquin basin, recorded in terms of unconformity-bounded depositional sequences, has been controlled principally by tectonism, but it has also been controlled by eustatic sea-level changes and, to a lesser degree, by climate. Plate tectonic events that had an influence on the basin include (1) subduction during the early Tertiary that changed from oblique to normal convergence in the later part of the Eocene, (2) the mid-Oligocene encounter of the Pacific-Farallon spreading ridge with the trench, and the consequent establishment of the San Andreas transform, (3) the northwestward migration of the Mendocino triple junction that in