The structure and Tertiary tectonic history of the northern Cascadia subduction zone have been delineated by a series of new multichannel seismic lines acquired across the continental shelf to the deep sea, combined with adjacent land multichannel seismic data and results from a wide range of other geophysical and geological studies. The top of the downgoing oceanic crust is imaged for a remarkable distance downdip from the deep ocean basin to a depth of 40 km beneath Vancouver Island. The reflection depths are in good agreement with seismic refraction models and Benioff–Wadati seismicity. Two broad reflective bands imaged as dipping gently landward at depths of about 15 and 30 km on the land lines merge to a single reflector band offshore. They may represent underplated oceanic material or, alternatively, they may not be structural but may be zones of contrasting physical properties, perhaps representing trapped fluid. Two narrow terranes, the Mesozoic marine sedimentary Pacific Rim Terrane and the Eocene marine volcanic Crescent Terrane, have been thrust beneath, and accreted to, the margin in the Eocene, about 42 Ma, near the start of the present phase of subduction. They provide a landward-dipping backstop to the large sediment wedge accreted since that time. The deformation front is characterized by mainly landward-dipping thrust faults that cut close to basement. This result and the mass balance of the incoming sediment compared with that present in the accreted wedge suggest that there is little subduction of sediment into the mantle. The Tofino Basin sediments, up to 4 km in thickness, have been deposited on the continental shelf over the accreted terranes and the developing accretionary wedge.

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