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Structure and Geologic History of Late Cenozoic Eel River Basin, California

Samuel H. Clarke, Jr.

The Eel River basin formed as a late Cenozoic forearc basin floored by late Mesozoic and early Cenozoic allochthonous terranes (central and coastal belts of the Franciscan complex). Regionally, basement rocks are unconformably overlain on land by a sedimentary sequence as much as about 4,200 m thick that comprises the Bear River Formation (early and middle Miocene) and the Wildcat Group (late Miocene to middle Pleistocene) and offshore by broadly coeval upper Tertiary and Quaternary deposits as much as 3,300 m thick.

Offshore, the southern part of the basin is typified by the seaward extensions of youthful northeast-dipping thrust and reverse faults and northwest-trending anticlines. The latest period of deformation in this part of the basin began during the middle Pleistocene and probably reflects north-northwestward migration of the Mendocino triple junction and encroachment of the Pacific plate. Farther north, the western basin margin and adjacent upper continental slope are separated from the axial part of the offshore basin by a narrow zone of north-northwest-trending, right-stepping en echelon folds. These folds indicate that northeast-southwest compression characteristic of the southern part of the basin is accompanied toward the north by right-lateral shear between the accretionary complex to the west and the basin to the east. The northeastern margin of the offshore basin is cut by north to north-northwest-trending high-angle reverse faults that vertically offset basement rocks as much as 1,300 m, west side down. These faults, which may merge northward, coincide with older terrane boundaries and locally show evidence of late Cenozoic reactivation with possible right-lateral slip.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91035©1988 AAPG-SEPM-SEG Pacific Sections and SPWLA Annual Convention, Santa Barbara, California, 17-19 April 1988.