Articles

Sierra Nevada Batholith

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Science  15 Dec 1967:
Vol. 158, Issue 3807, pp. 1407-1417
DOI: 10.1126/science.158.3807.1407

Abstract

The Sierra Nevada batholith is localized in the axial region of a complex faulted synclinorium that coincides with a downfold in the Mohorovicic discontinuity and in P-wave velocity boundaries within the crust. Observed P-wave velocities are compatible with downward increase in the proportion of diorite, quartz diorite, and calcic granodiorite relative to quartz monzonite and granite in the upper crust, with amphibolite or gabbro-basalt in the lower crust, and with periodotite in the upper mantle. The synclinorium was formed in Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata during early and middle Mesozoic time in a geosyncline marginal to the continent. Granitic magmas are believed to have formed in the lower half of the crust at depths of 25 to 45 kilometers or more, primarily as a result of high radiogenic heat production in the thickened prism of crustal rocks. Magma was generated at different times in different places as the locus of down-folding shifted. It rose into the upper crust because it was less dense than rock of the same composition or residual refractory rocks. Refractory rocks and crystals that were not melted and early crystallized mafic minerals that settled from the rising magma thickened the lower crust. Wall and roof rocks settled around, and perhaps through, the rising magma and provided space for its continued rise. Erosion followed each magmatic episode, and 10 to 12 kilometers of rock may have been eroded away since the Jurassic and 7 to 10 kilometers since the early Late Cretaceous.