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A summary of the late Cenozoic stratigraphic and tectonic history of the Santa Clara Valley, California

January 1, 2015

The late Cenozoic stratigraphic and tectonic history of the Santa Clara Valley illustrates the dynamic nature of the North American–Pacific plate boundary and its effect on basin and landscape development. Prior to early Miocene time, the area that became Santa Clara Valley consisted of eroding Franciscan complex basement structurally interleaved in places with Coast Range ophiolite and Mesozoic Great Valley sequence, and locally overlapped by Paleogene strata. During early to middle Miocene time, this landscape was flooded by the sea and was deformed locally into deeper depressions such as the Cupertino Basin in the southwestern part of the valley. Marine deposition during the middle and late Miocene laid down thin deposits in shallow water and thick deeper-water deposits in the Cupertino Basin. During this sedimentation, the San Andreas fault system encroached into the valley, with most offset partitioned onto the San Andreas fault southwest of the valley and the southern Calaveras–Silver Creek–Hayward fault system in the northeastern part of the valley. A 6-km-wide right step between the Hayward and Silver Creek faults formed the 40-km-long Evergreen pull-apart basin along the northeastern margin of the valley, leaving a basement ridge between it and the Cupertino Basin. The Silver Creek fault was largely abandoned ca. 2.5 Ma in favor of a compressional left step between the Calaveras and Hayward fault, although some slip continued to at least mid-Quaternary time. Gravity, seismic, stratigraphic, and interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data indicate no other major San Andreas system faults within the central block between the present-day range-front faults bounding the valley and the Silver Creek fault. Sometime between 9 and 4 Ma (9 and 1 Ma for the central block), the area rose above sea level, and a regional surface of erosion was carved into the Mesozoic and Tertiary rocks. Alluvial gravels were deposited on this surface along the margins of the valley beginning ca. 4 Ma, but they may not have prograded onto the central block until ca. 1 Ma, because no older equivalents of the Pliocene–Quaternary Santa Clara gravels have been found there. Thus, either the central block was high enough relative to the surrounding areas that Santa Clara gravels were never deposited on it, or any Santa Clara gravels deposited there were stripped away before ca. 1 Ma. Analysis of alluvium on the central block implies a remarkably uniform, piston-like, subsidence of the valley of ∼0.4 mm/yr since ca. 0.8 Ma, possibly extending north to northern San Francisco Bay. Today, the central block continues to subside, the range-front reverse faults are active, and the major active faults of the San Andreas system are mostly outside the valley.

Publication Year 2015
Title A summary of the late Cenozoic stratigraphic and tectonic history of the Santa Clara Valley, California
DOI 10.1130/GES01093.1
Authors Victoria E. Langenheim, Robert C. Jachens, Carl M. Wentworth, Russell W. Graymer, Richard G. Stanley, Robert J. McLaughlin, Robert W. Simpson, Robert A. Williams, D. W. Andersen, David A. Ponce
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geosphere
Index ID 70199014
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center