Abstract

The LITHOPROBE seismic reflection project on Vancouver Island was designed to study the large-scale structure of several accreted terranes exposed on the island and to determine the geometry and structural characteristics of the subducting Juan de Fuca plate. In this paper, we interpret two LITHOPROBE profiles from southernmost Vancouver Island that were shot across three important terrane-bounding faults—Leech River, San Juan, and Survey Mountain—to determine their subsurface geometry and relationship to deeper structures associated with modem subduction.The structure beneath the island can be divided into an upper crustal region, consisting of several accreted terranes, and a deeper region that represents a landward extension of the modern offshore subduction complex. In the upper region, the Survey Mountain and Leech River faults are imaged as northeast-dipping thrusts that separate Wrangellia, a large Mesozoic–Paleozoic terrane, from two smaller accreted terranes: the Leech River schist, Mesozoic rocks that were metamorphosed in the Late Eocene; and the Metchosin Formation, a Lower Eocene basalt and gabbro unit. The Leech River fault, which was clearly imaged on both profiles, dips 35–45 °northeast and extends to about 10 km depth. The Survey Mountain fault lies parallel to and above the Leech River fault and extends to similar depths. The San Juan fault, the western continuation of the Survey Mountain fault, was not imaged, although indirect evidence suggests that it also is a thrust fault. These faults accommodated the Late Eocene amalgamation of the Leech River and Metchosin terranes along the southern perimeter of Wrangellia. Thereafter, these terranes acted as a relatively coherent lid for a younger subduction complex that has formed during the modem (40 Ma to present) convergent regime.Within this subduction complex, the LITHOPROBE profiles show three prominent bands of differing reflectivity that dip gently northeast. These bands represent regionally extensive layers lying beneath the lid of older accreted terranes. We interpret them as having formed by underplating of oceanic materials beneath the leading edge of an overriding continental place. The upper reflective layer can be projected updip to the south, where it is exposed in the Olympic Mountains as the Core rocks, an uplifted Cenozoic subduction complex composed dominantly of accreted marine sedimentary rocks. A middle zone of low reflectivity is not exposed at the surface, but results from an adjacent refraction survey indicate it is probably composed of relatively high velocity materials (~ 7.7 km/s). We consider two possibilities for the origin of this zone: (1) a detached slab of oceanic lithosphere accreted during an episodic tectonic event or (2) an imbricated package of mafic rocks derived by continuous accretion from the top of the subducting oceanic crust. The lower reflective layer is similar in reflection character to the upper layer and, therefore, is also interpreted as consisting dominantly of accreted marine sedimentary rocks. It represents the active zone of decoupling between the overriding and underthrusting plates and, thus, delimits present accretionary processes occurring directly above the descending Juan de Fuca plate. These results provide the first direct evidence for the process of subduction underplating or subcretion and illustrate a process that is probably important in the evolution and growth of continents.

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