Mesozoic continental arcs in the North American Cordillera were examined here to establish a baseline model for Phanerozoic continent formation. We combine new trace-element data on lower crustal xenoliths from the Mesozoic Sierra Nevada Batholith with an extensive grid-based geochemical map of the Peninsular Ranges Batholith, the southern equivalent of the Sierras. Collectively, these observations give a three-dimensional view of the crust, which permits the petrogenesis and tectonics of Phanerozoic crust formation to be linked in space and time. Subduction of the Farallon plate beneath North America during the Triassic to early Cretaceous was characterized by trench retreat and slab rollback because old and cold oceanic lithosphere was being subducted. This generated an extensional subduction zone, which created fringing island arcs just off the Paleozoic continental margin. However, as the age of the Farallon plate at the time of subduction decreased, the extensional environment waned, allowing the fringing island arc to accrete onto the continental margin. With continued subduction, a continental arc was born and a progressively more compressional environment developed as the age of subducting slab continued to young. Refinement into a felsic crust occurred after accretion, that is, during the continental arc stage, wherein a thickened crustal and lithospheric column permitted a longer differentiation column. New basaltic arc magmas underplate and intrude the accreted terrane, suture, and former continental margin. Interaction of these basaltic magmas with pre-existing crust and lithospheric mantle created garnet pyroxenitic mafic cumulates by fractional crystallization at depth as well as gabbroic and garnet pyroxenitic restites at shallower levels by melting of pre-existing lower crust. The complementary felsic plutons formed by these deep-seated differentiation processes rose into the upper crust, stitching together the accreted terrane, suture and former continental margin. The mafic cumulates and restites, owing to their high densities, eventually foundered into the mantle, leaving behind a more felsic crust. Our grid-based sampling allows us to estimate an unbiased average upper crustal composition for the Peninsular Ranges Batholith. Major and trace-element compositions are very similar to global continental crust averaged over space and time, but in detail, the Peninsular Ranges are slightly lower in compatible to mildly incompatible elements, MgO, Mg#, V, Sc, Co, and Cr. The compositional similarities suggest a strong arc component in global continental crust, but the slight discrepancies suggest that additional crust formation processes are also important in continent formation as a whole. Finally, the delaminated Sierran garnet pyroxenites have some of the lowest U/Pb ratios ever measured for silicate rocks. Such material, if recycled and stored in the deep mantle, would generate a reservoir with very unradiogenic Pb, providing one solution to the global Pb isotope paradox. ?? 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.