Plate deformation at depth under northern California: Slab gap or stretched slab?

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Plate kinematic interpretations for northern California predict a gap in the underlying subducted slab caused by the northward migration of the Pacific-North America-Juan de Fuca triple junction. However, large-scale decompression melting and asthenospheric upwelling to the base of the overlying plate within the postulated gap are not supported by geophysical and geochemical observations. We suggest a model for the interaction between the three plates which is compatible with the observations. In this 'slab stretch' model the Juan de Fuca plate under coastal northern California deforms by stretching and thinning to fill the geometrical gap formed in the wake of the northward migrating Mendocino triple junction. The stretching is in response to boundary forces acting on the plate. The thinning results in an elevated geothermal gradient, which may be roughly equivalent to a 4 Ma oceanic lithosphere, still much cooler than that inferred by the slab gap model. We show that reequilibration of this geothermal gradient under 20-30 km thick overlying plate can explain the minor Neogene volcanic activity, its chemical composition, and the heat flow. In contrast to northern California, geochemical and geophysical consequences of a 'true' slab gap can be observed in the California Inner Continental Borderland offshore Los Angeles, where local asthenospheric upwelling probably took place during the Miocene as a result of horizontal extension and rotation of the overlying plate. The elevated heat flow in central California can be explained by thermal reequilibration of the stalled Monterey microplate under the Coast Ranges, rather than by a slab gap or viscous shear heating in the mantle.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Plate deformation at depth under northern California: Slab gap or stretched slab?
Series title Tectonics
DOI 10.1029/1999TC900050
Volume 18
Issue 6
Year Published 1999
Language English
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 15 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Tectonics
First page 1084
Last page 1098
Country United States
State California
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