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Geologic signature of early Tertiary ridge subduction in Alaska

January 1, 2003

A mid-Paleocene to early Eocene encounter between an oceanic spreading center and a subduction zone produced a wide range of geologic features in Alaska. The most striking effects are seen in the accretionary prism (Chugach–Prince William terrane), where 61 to 50 Ma near-trench granitic to gabbroic plutons were intruded into accreted trench sediments that had been deposited only a few million years earlier. This short time interval also saw the genesis of ophiolites, some of which contain syngenetic massive sulfide deposits; the rapid burial of these ophiolites beneath trench turbidites, followed immediately by obduction; anomalous high-T, low-P, near-trench metamorphism; intense ductile deformation; motion on transverse strike-slip and normal faults; gold mineralization; and uplift of the accretionary prism above sea level. The magmatic arc experienced a brief flare-up followed by quiescence. In the Alaskan interior, 100 to 600 km landward of the paleotrench, several Paleocene to Eocene sedimentary basins underwent episodes of extensional subsidence, accompanied by bimodal volcanism. Even as far as 1000 km inboard of the paleotrench, the ancestral Brooks Range and its foreland basin experienced a pulse of uplift that followed about 40 million years of quiescence.

All of these events - but most especially those in the accretionary prism - can be attributed with varying degrees of confidence to the subduction of an oceanic spreading center. In this model, the ophiolites and allied ore deposits were produced at the soon-to-be subducted ridge. Near-trench magmatism, metamorphism, deformation, and gold mineralization took place in the accretionary prism above a slab window, where hot asthenosphere welled up into the gap between the two subducted, but still diverging, plates. Deformation took place as the critically tapered accretionary prism adjusted its shape to changes in the bathymetry of the incoming plate, changes in the convergence direction before and after ridge subduction, and changes in the strength of the prism as it was heated and then cooled. In this model, events in the Alaskan interior would have taken place above more distal, deeper parts of the slab window. Extensional (or transtensional) basin subsidence was driven by the two subducting plates that each exerted different tractions on the upper plate. The magmatic lull along the arc presumably marks a time when hydrated lithosphere was not being subducted beneath the arc axis. The absence of a subducting slab also may explain uplift of the Brooks Range and North Slope: Geodynamic models predict that longwavelength uplift of this magnitude will take place far inboard from Andean-type margins when a subducting slab is absent. Precise correlations between events in the accretionary prism and the Alaskan interior are hampered, however, by palinspastic problems. During and since the early Tertiary, margin-parallel strike-slip faulting has offset the near-trench plutonic belt - i.e., the very basis for locating the triple junction and slab window - from its backstop, by an amount that remains controversial.

Near-trench magmatism began at 61 Ma at Sanak Island in the west but not until 51 Ma at Baranof Island, 2200 km to the east. A west-to-east age progression suggests migration of a trench-ridge-trench triple junction, which we term the Sanak-Baranof triple junction. Most workers have held that the subducted ridge separated the Kula and Farallon plates. As a possible alternative, we suggest that the ridge may have separated the Kula plate from another oceanic plate to the east, which we have termed the Resurrection plate.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2003
Title Geologic signature of early Tertiary ridge subduction in Alaska
DOI 10.1130/0-8137-2371-X.19
Authors Dwight C. Bradley, Timothy M. Kusky, Peter J. Haeussler, Richard J. Goldfarb, Marti L. Miller, Julie A. Dumoulin, Steven W. Nelson, Susan M. Karl
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geological Society of America Special Papers
Series Number
Index ID 70182826
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center