Evidence for diffuse exension of the Pacific plate from Pukapuka ridges and cross-grain gravity lineations Public Deposited

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  • Satellite altimeter measurements of marine gravity reveal 100 to 200-km wavelength lineations over a wide area of the Pacific plate oriented roughly in the direction of absolute plate motion. At least three mechanisms have been proposed for their origin: smallscale convective rolls aligned in the direction of absolute plate motion by shear in the asthenosphere; diffuse N-S extension of the lithosphere resulting in lineated zones of extension (boudins); and minihotspots that move slowly with respect to major hotspots and produce intermittent volcanism. Recently, several chains of linear volcanic ridges have been found to be associated with the gravity lineations. Following ridgelike gravity signatures apparent in high resolution Geosat gravity measurements, we surveyed a series of volcanic ridges that extend northwest from the East Pacific Rise flank for 2600 kIn onto 40 Ma seafloor. Our survey data, as well as radiometric dates on samples we collected from the ridges, provide tight constraints on their origin: (1) Individual ridge segments and sets of ridges are highly elongate in the direction of present absolute plate motion. (2) The ridges formed along a band 50 to 70-kIn-wide in the trough of one of the more prominent gravity lineations. (3) Radiometric dates of the largest ridges show no hotspot age progression. Moreover, the directions predicted for minihotspot traces older than 24 Ma do not match observed directions of either the gravity lineations or the ridges. Based on this last observation, we reject the minihotspot model. The occurrence of the ridges in the trough of the gravity lineation is incompatible with the small-scale convection model which would predict increased volcanism above the convective upwelling. We favor the diffuse extension model because it is consistent with the occurrence of ridges in the trough above the more highly extended lithosphere. However, the multibeam data show no evidence for widespread normal faulting of the crust as predicted by the model. Perhaps the fault scarps are buried under more than 30 m of sediments and/or covered by the elongated ridges. Finally, we note that if ridge-push force is much smaller than trench-pull force, then near the ridge axis the direction of maximum tensile stress must be perpendicular to the direction of absolute plate motion.
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  • Duncan, R. A., Johnson, C. L., Levitt, D. A., Lynch, M. A., Mammerickx, J., Sandwell, D. T., and Winterer, E. L. (1995), Evidence for diffuse extension of the Pacific plate form Pukapuka ridges and cross-grain gravity lineations. J. Geophys. Res., 100, B8, 15087-15099.
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