A comparison of the deep structure along nine recent transects of the west margin of North America shows many important similarities and differences. Common tectonic elements identified in the deep structure along these transects include actively subducting oceanic crust, accreted oceanic/arc (or oceanic-like) lithosphere of Mesozoic through Cenozoic ages. Cenozoic accretionary prisms, Mesozoic accretionary prisms, backstops to the Mesozoic prisms, and undivided lower crust. Not all of these elements are present along all transects. In this study, nine transects, including four crossing subduction zones and five crossing transform faults, are plotted at the same scale and vertical exaggeration (V.E. 1:1), using the above scheme for identifying tectonic elements. The four subduction-zone transects contain actively subducting oceanic crust. Cenozoic accretionary prisms, and bodies of basaltic rocks accreted in the Cenozoic, including remnants of a large, oceanic plateau in the Oregon and Vancouver Island transects. Rocks of age and composition (Eocene basalt) similar to the oceanic plateau are currently subducting in southern Alaska, where they are doubled up on top of Pacific oceanic crust and have apparently created a giant asperity, or impediment to subduction. Most of the subduction-zone transects also contain Mesozoic accretionary prisms, and two of them, Vancouver Island and Alaska, also contain thick, technically underplated bodies of late Mesozoic/early Cenozoic oceanic lithosphere, interpreted as fragments of the extinct Kula plate. In the upper crust, most of the five transform-fault transects (all in California) reflect: (1) tectonic wedging of a Mesozoic accretionary prism into a backstop, which includes Mesozoic/early Cenozoic forearc rocks and Mesozoic ophiolitic/arc basement rocks: and (2) shuffling of the subduction margin of California by strike-slip faulting. In the lower crust, they may reflect migration of the Mendocino triple junction northward (seen in rocks east of the San Andreas fault) and cessation of Farallon-plate subduction (seen in rocks west of the San Andreas fault). In northern California, lower-crustal rocks east of the San Andreas fault have oceanic-crustal velocity and thickness and contain patches of high reflectivity. They may represent basaltic rocks magmatically underplated in the wake of the migration of the Mendocino triple junction, or they may represent stalled, subducted fragments of the Farallon/Gorda plate. The latter alternative does not fit the accepted 'slabless window' model for the migration of the triple junction. This lower-crustal layer and the Moho are offset at the San Andreas and Maacama faults. In central California, a similar lower-crustal layer is observed west of the San Andreas fault. West of the continental slope, it is Pacitic oceanic crust, but beneath the continent it may represent either Pacific oceanic crust, stalled, subducted fragments (microplates) of the Farallon plate, or basaltic rocks magmatically underplated during subduction of the Pacific/Farallon ridge or during breakup of the subducted Farallon plate. The transect in southern California is only partly representative of regional structure, as the structure here is 3-dimensional. In the upper crust, a Mesozoic prism has been thrust beneath crystalline basement rocks of the San Gabriel Mountains and Mojave Desert. In the mid-crust, a bright reflective zone is interpreted as a possible 'master' decollement that can be traced from the fold-and-thrust belt of the Los Angeles basin northward to at least the San Andreas fault. A Moho depression beneath the San Gabriel Mountains is consistent with downwelling of lithospheric mantle beneath the Transverse Ranges that appears to be driving the compression across the Transverse Ranges and Los Angeles basin. ?? 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
West margin of North America - A synthesis of recent seismic transects