Wandering terranes in southern Alaska: The Aleutia Microplate and implications for the Bering Sea

Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
By:  and 



Paleomagnetic and geological data suggest that much of southern Alaska is a collage of tectonostratigraphic terranes which originated in Mesozoic time at paleolatitudes far south of their present position. The time of ‘docking’ of the terranes against cratonic Alaska is critical to defining their amalgamated size and extent during their northward motion as well as their role in the evolution of the Bering Sea. One of the largest of the tectonostratigraphic terranes, the Peninsular terrane of south central and southwestern Alaska, extends offshore along the outer Bering Sea continental margin (Beringia). Paleomagnetic data suggest that this terrane has moved northward through all of Cenozoic time, but geologic data imply that the terrane had accreted to Alaska by the end of the Mesozoic. In early Cenozoic time the eastern part of the Aleutian arc appears to have been superimposed on the Peninsular terrane, and postulated northward Cenozoic motion of the terrane would therefore have required northward motion of the arc. Two accretion models, based on docking times for terranes in Alaska, are proposed, and they illustrate that large areas of the abyssal Bering Sea, the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian arc, and the Beringian continental margin may be part of a superterrane or microplate called Aleutia (microplate as defined by Beck et al. (1980), i.e., a microplate is a displaced segment of lithosphere that has crustal roots, whereas a superterrane is an amalgamation of terranes which may or may not be rootless). Model A implies that the Aleutian arc developed in situ on the southern edge of Aleutia after the microplate had docked. In model B, the final docking time of the Peninsular terrane is late Cenozoic, which implies that the Aleutia microplate encompasses a mammoth area that includes parts of southern Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula, the southern Beringian margin, the abyssal Bering Sea (Kula plate), and the Aleutian arc. If model A is correct, the docking time of the Peninsular terrane is late Mesozoic or earliest Tertiary. The Aleutia microplate in this model is made up solely of the abyssal Bering Sea (Kula plate), which presumably docked at the same time or slightly after the Peninsular terrane accreted against Alaska. If model B is correct, that is, if the Aleutia collided with nuclear Alaska during the Cenozoic, then a late Cenozoic suture zone, the vestige of a large open sea that must have closed between Aleutia and Alaska, must exist in south central and southwest Alaska. Either evidence for Cenozoic closure and suturing has been obliterated in Alaska or the inferences of Cenozoic terrane motion derived from paleomagnetic data are suspect.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Wandering terranes in southern Alaska: The Aleutia Microplate and implications for the Bering Sea
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
DOI 10.1029/JB088iB04p03439
Volume 88
Issue B4
Year Published 1983
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 8 p.
First page 3439
Last page 3446
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Southern Alaska
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