Middle Miocene to early Pliocene oblique extension in the southern Gulf of California Academic Article uri icon


  • A multichannel seismic (MCS) experiment spanning 600 km across the Alarcon Rise and its conjugate rifted margins in the southern Gulf of California (western North America) provides insight into the spatial and temporal evolution of extension between Baja California and the mainland (Mexico). Stratigraphic analysis of multiple rift basins within the Alarcon spreading corridor indicates an initial stage of oblique extension starting ca. 14-12 Ma. This initial phase of extension was characterized by the formation of several large basins in the center of the gulf and on the southeast margin with negligible synrift sedimentation. A second phase of oblique extension, likely synchronous with large-scale basin opening in the central and northern Gulf of California, began ca. 8-5 Ma and was characterized by the formation of smaller half-grabens distributed across the conjugate margins that contain both synrift and postrift deposits. A key feature imaged within the MCS data is a highly reflective, ropey layer at the top of basement, interpreted to be either volcanic rocks from the 25-12 Ma Comondu Group, and/or early rifting volcanic rocks that are between 11 and 9 Ma, or younger. This volcanic layer is extensively faulted, suggesting that it predates the episode of early extension. Upper crustal extension appears to be equally distributed across conjugate margins, forming a symmetrical continental rift. Two styles of rifted basin are observed; older basins (estimated as 14-11 Ma using sedimentation rates) show distributed extension with extensive basement faulting. In contrast, the younger basins (likely post-6 Ma) are asymmetrical with synrift deposits thickening into the basin-bounding faults. The northeast-southwest geomorphic expression of the Tamayo bank and trough and other features provides additional evidence that northwest-southeast oblique extension began ca. 12 Ma. These new spatial and temporal constraints, when combined with a crustal thickness profile obtained across the entire Alarcon corridor, suggest that significant northwest-southeast oblique extension within the Gulf of California started well before 6 Ma, in contrast to earlier models.

publication date

  • August 2012