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Ancient plate boundaries in the Bering Sea region

January 6, 1982

Plate tectonic models of the Bering Sea suggest that the abyssal Bering Sea Basin is underlain by oceanic crust, a supposition supported by refraction and magnetic data. The oceanic crust is thought to be a remnant of the Kula(?) plate that was isolated within what is now the Bering Sea when the proto-Aleutian arc began to form between the Alaska Peninsula and Kamchatka in late Mesozoic or earliest Tertiary times. Prior to the formation of the Aleutian arc, the Kula(?) plate moved NW, directly underthrusting eastern Siberia; the plate’s eastern edge either obliquely underthrust or slid past the Bering Sea margin along a transform boundary.

The Koryak Range in eastern Siberia is composed in part of mélange units that include Palaeozoic and Mesozoic allochthonous blocks juxtaposed within a matrix of Cretaceous sedimentary rocks. Structural trends suggest that these blocks were accreted into the Koryak area from the south along an ancient subduction zone formed by underthrusting of the Kula(?) plate.

The base of the Bering Sea continental margin that extends from eastern Siberia to the Alaska Peninsula—the so-called Beringian margin—is underlain by a thick (7–10 km) sedimentary section along the base of the slope. Rocks dredged from the basement exposed farther up the slope (1500–2000 m deep) include shallow-water Upper Jurassic sandstone that is unconformably overlain by shallow-water Eocene to Miocene diatomaceous mudstone. Fauna in the dredge samples indicate that the shelf edge has subsided several kilometres since late Palaeogene time, perhaps in response to the cessation of motion relative to the adjacent oceanic plate and subsequent sediment loading of the oceanic plate.

Uplift of the former plate boundary exposed in the Koryak Range occurred principally in late Cenozoic time, and collapse of the adjacent plate boundary, the Beringian margin, began in earliest Tertiary time and has continued to the present. Both tectonic events occurred after the site of active plate collision shifted south to near the present Aleutian Trench. We are uncertain as to why these two ancient, yet adjacent former plate boundaries should behave so differently, i.e. why one area was folded and uplifted while the other was extensionally deformed and subsided, both apparently in response to the cessation of convergent or strike-slip plate motion.

Publication Year 1982
Title Ancient plate boundaries in the Bering Sea region
DOI 10.1144/GSL.SP.1982.010.01.13
Authors M. S. Marlow, Alan K. Cooper, David W. Scholl, H. McLean
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geological Society, London, Special Publications
Index ID 70207693
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coastal and Marine Geology Program; Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center