Abstract

Geophysical studies of the crust and upper mantle have been conducted in the Canadian Cordillera for over two decades, but only recently have sufficient data been collected to permit a synthesis and a correlation with the major geological units. The studies have included gravity, heat flow, and magnetotelluric observations, geomagnetic depth sounding, and high level aeromagnetics as well as both small and large scale refraction and reflection seismic surveys.It now appears that major crustal units may be recognized geophysically:(i) Seismic and gravity data suggest that the Plains and Rocky Mountains are underlain by two units of the North American craton with a crustal section 45–50 km thick. The northern unit appears to terminate at the Rocky Mountain Trench while the southern unit may extend to the Omineca Geanticline.(ii) The combined geological and geophysical data suggest that the Rocky Mountain Trench and possibly the Kootenay Arc near the 49th parallel mark the edge of the Precambrian continental margin and that the western Cordillera was formed by a complex succession of plate interactions with repeated reactivation of block boundaries.(iii) A combination of magnetic and heat flow data suggest that the region between the Rocky Mountain Trench and the Fraser Lineament is part of the Cordilleran Thermal Anomaly Zone recognized by Blackwell in the United States.(iv) Seismic data in Central British Columbia suggest that the Pinchi Fault system is a boundary between two crustal blocks.(v) The crustal thickness of the Coast Geanticline appears to increase gradually to the west to approximately 40 km and, at least in southern British Columbia, does not have a root zone below the mountains.(vi) The crustal section beneath Vancouver Island is abnormally thick and there is some paleomagnetic data which suggest that the Island may not have been formed in its present position, contiguous to the Cordillera. The crustal section for the northern part of the Insular Trough is significantly thinner.(vii) The active spreading of the Juan de Fuca Rise – Explorer Trench is now well documented. The geophysical data suggest active subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate beneath Oregon, Washing-ton, and southern Vancouver Island. However, further north there is no evidence for subduction.

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