Oblique convergence in the St. Elias orogen of southern Alaska and northwestern Canada has constructed the world's highest coastal mountain range and is the principal driver constructing all of the high topography in northern North America. The orogen originated when the Yakutat terrane was excised from the Cordilleran margin and was transported along margin-parallel strike-slip faults into the subduction-transform transition at the eastern end of the Aleutian trench. We examine the last 3 m.y. of this collision through an analysis of Euler poles for motion of the Yakutat microplate with respect to North America and the Pacific. This analysis indicates a Yakutat-Pacific pole near the present southern triple junction of the microplate and' predicts convergence to dextral-oblique convergence across the offshore Transition fault, onland structures adjacent to the Yakutat foreland, or both, with plate speeds increasing from 10 to 30 mm/yr from southeast to northwest. Reconstructions based on these poles show that NNW transport of the collided block into the NE trending subduction zone forced contraction of EW line elements as the collided block was driven into the subduction-transform transition. This suggests the collided block was constricted as it was driven into the transition. Constriction provides an explanation for observed vertical axis refolding of both earlier formed fold-thrust systems and the collisional suture at the top of the fold-thrust stack. We also suggest that this motion was partially accommodated by lateral extrusion of the western portion of the orogen toward the Aleutian trench. Important questions remain regarding which structures accommodated parts of this motion. The Transition fault may have accommodated much of the Yakutat-Pacific convergence on the basis of our analysis and previous interpretations of GPS-based geodetic data. Nonetheless, it is locally overlapped by up to 800 m of undeformed sediment, yet elsewhere shows evidence of young deformation. This contradiction could be produced if the overlapping sediments are too young to have accumulated significant deformation, or GPS motions may be deflected by transient strains or strains from poorly understood fault interactions. In either case, more data are needed to resolve the paradox. Copyright 2004 by the American Geophysical Union.
Additional Publication Details
Tectonic processes during oblique collision: Insights from the St. Elias orogen, northern North American Cordillera