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Tectonic Evolution of California

I have to admit from the beginning that I'm not a geologist, so I may well make a mistake or two in this section. I apologize in advance for any such problems you might find. If you do find one, please send me e-mail so that I can fix it.

Very little of what is now California was originally a part of North America back in the Precambrian Era; basically the Mojave Desert basement rocks were around then. Most of the rest of California is made up of large chunks of different kinds of rocks which were ``imported'' from other parts of the world through plate tectonic movements. These big chunks of rock are called displaced terranes.

California is an amazing mess of such terranes, and doing a good job of giving the full history of these terranes would certainly take a full book. So I'm not even going to try. Instead, I'll give a brief timeline in list form, with the main highlights of California's evolution outlined. At the end of this section, I'll try to list some other good references to look at for more detailed information. For reference, ``Ma'' means ``million years ago''.

Please keep in mind that this is an extremely bare-bones chronology and no doubt I have left out lots of stuff.

Here's another list of odd or otherwise interesting facts I dug up in the process of making the list above:

Figure 1 is a nice picture from the USGS which shows the last 30 million years of California's evolution.

  Figure 1. Schematic diagram showing the last 30 million years of evolution of the California continental margin. From USGS Professional Paper 1515.


Here are a couple places to look for more information. Both are fairly technical.

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Greg Anderson
Wed Mar 19 00:10:13 PST 1997