Abstract

The oceanic-continental boundary west of the Queen Charlotte Islands is marked by the active Queen Charlotte Fault Zone. Motion along the fault is predominantly dextral strike slip, but relative plate motion and other studies indicate that a component of convergence between the oceanic Pacific plate and the continental North American plate presently exists. This convergence could be manifest through different types of deformation: oblique subduction, crustal thickening, or lateral distortion of the plates. In 1983, a 330 km offshore–onshore seismic refraction profile extending from the deep ocean across the islands to the mainland of British Columbia was recorded to investigate (i) structure of the fault zone and associated oceanic–continental boundary and (ii) lithospheric structure beneath the islands and Hecate Strait to define the regional transition from Pacific plate to North American plate and thus the nature of the convergence. Two-dimensional ray tracing and synthetic seismogram modelling of many record sections enabled the derivation of a composite velocity structural section along the profile. The structural section also was tested with two-dimensional gravity modelling. Part I of the study addressed the structure of the fault zone; part II addresses lithospheric structure extending eastward to the mainland.The derived velocity structure has some important and well-constrained features: (i) anomalously low crustal velocities (5.3 km/s with a 0.2 km/s per km gradient) underlain by a steep, 19 °eastward-dipping boundary above the mantle in the terrace region west of the main fault; (ii) a thin crust of 21–27 km beneath the Queen Charlotte Islands; and (iii) a gentle 4 °eastward dip of the Moho below Hecate Strait as crustal thickness increases from 27 km to 32 km. The gravity modelling requires that mantle material extend upwards to a depth of about 30 km below the mainland and indicates that an underlying subducted slab, if it exists, extends eastward no farther than the mainland.Unfortunately, the velocity structure delineated by this study could not unambiguously determine the mode of deformation, because the lowermost crustal block beneath Queen Charlotte Islands and Hecate Strait can be interpreted as subducted oceanic crust or middle to lower continental crust. Thus, two different tectonic models for the transition from Pacific plate to North American plate are discussed: in one, oblique subduction is the principal characteristic; in the other, oceanic lithosphere juxtaposed against continental lithosphere across a narrow boundary zone along which only transcurrent motion occurs is the dominant feature. Based on the thin crust beneath the Queen Charlotte Islands, the lack of a wide zone of deformation along the plate boundary region, and other geological and geophysical characteristics, oblique subduction is the more plausible model.

You do not currently have access to this article.