Dr. David Kimbrough’s new paper published on zircon U-Pb ages for the gabbro from the PRB. It establishes a chronological framework for understanding the role of mafic intrusions in the evolution of the batholith. It concludes extensive gabbro in the western zone of the batholith were emplaced synchronously with granitoid magmas in a relatively shallow exposure of arc crust.

Timing and significance of gabbro emplacement within two distinct plutonic domains of the Peninsular Ranges batholith, southern and Baja California

David L. Kimbrough1, Marty Grove2 and Douglas M. Morton3

1Department of Geological Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182-1020, USA
2Department of Geological & Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, 397 Panama Mall, Stanford, California 94305-2210, USA
311341 Lombardy Lane, Moreno Valley, California 92557, USA 


Evaluating the crucial role postulated for mantle-derived mafic magmas in the formation of silicic batholiths requires well-determined igneous crystallization ages from mafic rocks as well as petrologic data reflecting possible mantle source heterogeneities and/or variations in subcrustal processes. The abundant mafic plutons that crop out within the mid-Cretaceous Peninsular Ranges batholith (PRB, southern and Baja California) provide an important opportunity to investigate the relationship of mafic and silicic magmatism in Cordilleran batholiths. Zircon U-Pb laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry ages are reported for 24 samples of PRB gabbro collected throughout its 1400-km-long extent. The samples span the entire compositional spectrum of PRB gabbro from cumulate olivine gabbro with <10 ppm whole rock Zr content, to gabbronorite, to more fractionated hornblende gabbro. Eighteen of the samples are from the western zone “gabbro belt” of the batholith including the type locality for San Marcos Gabbro, while six are from the eastern zone where gabbro is rare, composing <1% of the outcrop area. The morphology of zircon in PRB gabbro ranges from anhedral fragments to euhedral grains, and this zircon has distinctly lower uranium concentrations and higher Th/U ratios than zircon from PRB granitoids. Most samples exhibit simple U-Pb systematics, but several contain inherited or entrained zircons, and two eastern gabbro samples contain distinctly bimodal age populations. Weighted mean 206Pb/238U zircon ages are interpreted as crystallization ages and range from 130.5 ± 1.5 Ma to 100.2 ± 3.0 Ma for western zone samples. The ages demonstrate that gabbros were emplaced throughout the ~30 m.y. interval during which the bulk of the western zone was constructed, and conflict with the earlier interpretation of western gabbros as mafic forerunners that preceded emplacement of granitoid plutons. Eastern zone gabbros, in contrast, yield U-Pb ages that range mostly from 109.4 ± 2.9 Ma to 97.8 ± 2.3 Ma, narrowly predating the ca. 92–98 Ma eastern zone tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite batholith flareup, and thus may have played a role in crustal thickening and triggering of the flareup. Despite their partially cumulate character, whole rock major and trace element compositions of PRB gabbro closely match high-alumina olivine tholeiite and arc basalt and basaltic andesite from modern arcs. Gabbros from the west and east sides of the batholith, transverse to regional strike, have similar nearly flat rare earth element patterns that reflect derivation from a common partially contaminated depleted mantle source. The apparent across-strike petrologic uniformity of the gabbros contrasts strongly with PRB granitoids, which are well known for across-strike asymmetries in trace elements, initial 87Sr/86Sr, and δ18O, reflecting progressively deeper partial melting of mafic source rocks from west to east with additional input from a high-18O, high-87Sr end member on the east side of the batholith. The western PRB gabbros represent a plausible deep crustal source composition for derivation of western granitoids by partial melting or fractional crystallization. For the eastern batholith, the mafic source region requires modification by input of accretionary complex supracrustal rocks delivered via forearc subduction erosion underthrusting.

GSA BulletinKimbrough, David K., et al. Timing and significance of gabbro emplacement within two distinct plutonic domains of the Peninsular Ranges Batholith, southern and Baja California, GSA Bulletin 30, 2014, 30, 2014, doi: 10.1130/B30914.1