Growth and demise of continental arcs and orogenic plateaux in the North American Cordillera: From Baja to British Columbia

Donna L. Whitney, Scott R. Paterson, Keegan L. Schmidt, Allen F. Glazner, Christopher F. Kopf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In the North American Cordillera, crustal thickening, magmatism and flow of deep crust created an orogenic plateau, or series of related plateaux, in the Late Mesozoic-Early Cenozoic. From west to east, the plateaux extended from the continental arcs to the inboard crystalline belts of the Omineca-Sevier belt. From north to south, the plateaux ranged from British Columbia/SE Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. Although a vast region of western North America was characterized by thickened crust (60-70 km), unroofing of deep crust from >30 km was largely confined to the edges of the plateaux: the arcs and the eastern margins. Comparison of the unroofing histories of the Cordilleran arcs reveals that they differed dramatically from each other in the amount and style, but not timing, of exhumation. The northern Cordilleran arc and northern interior (Omineca) belt were exhumed from deep mid-crustal levels, with regional-scale Eocene extension accompanied by magmatism. In contrast, the central (Sierra Nevada) and southern (Peninsular Ranges) arcs were unroofed to much shallower levels (typically <15 km , primarily by erosion and local deformation. North to south differences in exhumation style and magnitude in the Cordilleran arcs may reflect differences in the degree of coupling between the subducting plate and the thickened continental lithosphere in the north v. south. In the northern Cordillera, relationships between Pacific-region plate activity and Tertiary continental extension/magmatism and deep exhumation suggest continued geodynamic coupling between subducting plates and orogenic crust following crustal thickening and plateau formation. In contrast, the central and southern Cordilleran arcs do not contain evidence for mechanical links with the subducting plate after the Late Cretaceous.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-175
Number of pages9
JournalGeological Society Special Publication
StatePublished - Oct 26 2004

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