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Geologic framework of the Aleutian arc, Alaska

January 1, 1994

The Aleutian arc is the arcuate arrangement of mountain ranges and flanking submerged margins that forms the northern rim of the Pacific Basin from the Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia) eastward more than 3,000 km to Cooke Inlet (Fig. 1). It consists of two very different segments that meet near Unimak Pass: the Aleutian Ridge segment to the west and the Alaska Peninsula-the Kodiak Island segment to the east. The Aleutian Ridge segment is a massive, mostly submerged cordillera that includes both the islands and the submerged pedestal from which they protrude. The Alaska Peninsula-Kodiak Island segment is composed of the Alaska Peninsula, its adjacent islands, and their continental and insular margins. The Bering Sea margin north of the Alaska Peninsula consists mostly of a wide continental shelf, some of which is underlain by rocks correlative with those on the Alaska Peninsula.

There is no pre-Eocene record in rocks of the Aleutian Ridge segment, whereas rare fragments of Paleozoic rocks and extensive outcrops of Mesozoic rocks occur on the Alaska Peninsula. Since the late Eocene, and possibly since the early Eocene, the two segments have evolved somewhat similarly. Major plutonic and volcanic episodes, however, are not synchronous. Furthermore, uplift of the Alaska Peninsula-Kodiak Island segment in late Cenozoic time was more extensive than uplift of the Aleutian Ridge segment. It is probable that tectonic regimes along the Aleutian arc varied during the Tertiary in response to such factors as the directions and rates of convergence, to bathymetry and age of the subducting Pacific Plate, and to the volume of sediment in the Aleutian Trench.

The Pacific and North American lithospheric plates converge along the inner wall of the Aleutian trench at about 85 to 90 mm/yr. Convergence is nearly at right angles along the Alaska Peninsula, but because of the arcuate shape of the Aleutian Ridge relative to the location of the plates' poles of rotation, the angle of convergence lessens to the west (Minster and Jordan, 1978). Along the central Aleutian Ridge, underthrusting is about 30° from normal to the volcanic axis. Motion between plates is approximately parallel along the western Aleutian Ridge.

In this paper we briefly describe and interpret the Cenozoic evolution of the Aleutian arc by focusing on the onshore and offshore geologic frameworks in four of its sectors, two sectors each from the Aleutian Ridge and Alaska Peninsula-Kodiak Island segments (Fig. 1). We compare the geologic evolution of the segments and comment on the implications of some new, previously unpublished data.

Publication Year 1994
Title Geologic framework of the Aleutian arc, Alaska
Authors Tracy L. Vallier, David W. Scholl, Michael A. Fisher, Terry R. Bruns, Frederic H. Wilson, Roland E. von Huene, Andrew J. Stevenson
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70182831
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center; Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center