The initiation of subduction is a process that cannot be observed directly but must be inferred from the rock record after subduction is well established. There are many approaches possible to infer the origin of subduction zones that are still active, but paleosubduction zones present special challenges, since their geodynamic setting can no longer be directly observed. In this study, we examine evidence for subduction initiation of the proto-Franciscan subduction zone along a transform fault, based on a subduction initiation origin for the Coast Range ophiolite, and on the Tehama-Colusa serpentinite mélange, which underlies the ophiolite and separates it from high-pressure/temperature metamorphic rocks of the Franciscan complex. The Coast Range ophiolite consists of volcanic, plutonic, and mantle components, each of which contains elements that reflect subduction initiation or hydrous melting within a subduction-zone setting. The volcanic assemblage includes forearc basalts and boninites, as well as more evolved calc-alkaline rocks; the plutonic complex contains intrusive suites that reflect this same range of parent magmas. Peridotites of the mantle section include both abyssal-like and refractory peridotites formed by hydrous decompression melting.
The Tehama-Colusa serpentinite mélange consists of blocks of basalt, chert, sedimentary rocks, and peridotite (harzburgite and lherzolite) in a sheared serpentinite matrix. The mélange matrix represents hydrated refractory peridotites with forearc affinities, and blocks within the mélange consist largely of upper-plate lithologies (harzburgite, arc volcanics, and arc-derived sediments). Lower-plate blocks within the mélange include oceanic basalts and chert with rare blueschist and amphibolite. The abyssal peridotites have low pyroxene equilibration temperatures that are consistent with formation in a fracture-zone setting. However, the current mélange reflects largely upper-plate lithologies in both its matrix and its constituent blocks.
We propose that the proto-Franciscan subduction zone nucleated on a large offset transform fault or fracture zone that evolved into a subduction-zone mélange complex. The nucleation of subduction zones along former transform boundaries has long been proposed for both modern arc systems and for the Franciscan–Coast Range ophiolite system. Our data support this interpretation and document more fully how this mechanism is expressed by mixing within the evolving serpentinite mélange.
- Received 10 May 2011.
- Revision received 25 August 2011.
- Accepted 12 October 2011.
- © 2011 Geological Society of America