The continental margin north of Alaska is of Atlantic type. It began to form probably in Early Jurassic time but possibly in middle Early Cretaceous time, when the oceanic Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean is thought to have opened by rifting about a pole of rotation near the Mackenzie Delta. Offsets of the rift along two fracture zones are thought to have divided the Alaskan margin into three sectors of contrasting structure and stratigraphy. In the Barter Island sector on the east and the Chukchi sector on the west the rift was closer to the present northern Alaska mainland than in the Barrow sector, which lies between them. In the Barter Island and Chukchi sectors the continental shelf is underlain by prisms of clastic sedimentary rocks that are inferred to include thick sections of Jurassic and Neocomian (lower Lower Cretaceous) strata of southern provenance. In the intervening Barrow sector the shelf is underlain by relatively thin sections of Jurassic and Neocomian strata derived from northern sources that now lie beneath the outer continental shelf.
The rifted continental margin is overlain by a prograded prism of Albian (upper Lower Cretaceous) to Tertiary clastic sedimentary rocks that comprises the continental terrace of the western Beaufort and northern Chukchi Seas. On the south the prism is bounded by Barrow arch, which is a hingeline between the northward-tilted basement surface beneath the continental shelf of the western Beaufort Sea and the southward-tilted Arctic Platform of northern Alaska.
The Arctic platform is overlain by shelf clastic and carbonate strata of Mississippian to Cretaceous age, and by Jurassic and Cretaceous clastic strata of the Colville foredeep. Both the Arctic platform and Colville foredeep sequences extend from northern Alaska beneath the northern Chukchi Sea. At Herald fault zone in the central Chukchi Sea they are overthrust by more strongly deformed Cretaceous to Paleozoic sedimentary rocks of Herald arch, which trends northwest from Cape Lisburne. Hope basin, an extensional intracontinental sedimentary basin of Tertiary age, underlies the Chukchi Sea south of Herald arch.