The trace of the ridge-ridge-ridge triple junction that connected the Pacific, Farallon, and Phoenix plates during mid-Cretaceous time originates at the northeast corner of the Manihiki Plateau near the Tongareva atoll, for which the structure is named. The triple junction trace extends >3250 km south-southeast, to and beyond a magnetic anomaly 34 bight. It is identified by the intersection of nearly orthogonal abyssal hill fabrics, which mark the former intersections of the Pacific-Phoenix and Pacific-Farallon Ridges. A distinct trough is commonly present at the intersection. A volcanic episode from 125 to 120 Ma created the Manihiki Plateau with at least twice its present volume, and displaced the triple junction southeast from the Nova-Canton Trough to the newly formed Manihiki Plateau. Almost simultaneously, the plateau was rifted by the new triple junction system, and large fragments of the plateau were rafted away to the south and east. The Tongareva triple junction originated ca. 119 Ma, when carbonate sedimentation began atop the Manihiki Plateau. Subsequent spreading rates on the Pacific-Phoenix and Pacific-Farallon Ridges averaged 18–20 cm/yr until 84 Ma.

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