The Explorer plate is a young oceanic microplate that accommodates relative motion between the Pacific, Juan de Fuca, and North America plates near northern Vancouver Island, Canada. The northern limit of Explorer plate–Juan de Fuca subduction and the fate of the slab in northern Cascadia are poorly understood. We use passive teleseismic recordings from an array of POLARIS broadband seismic stations to image crustal and upper mantle structure beneath northern Vancouver Island into the interior of British Columbia. A clear signature of subducted material extends northeast from the Brooks Peninsula at crustal levels, beneath Georgia Strait and the mainland deep into the mantle to 300 km depth. Complexity in slab morphology results from Juan de Fuca ridge subduction and toroidal flow around the slab edge, in agreement with geophysical and geological data. We propose a tectonic model for the Explorer plate in which its separation from the Juan de Fuca plate is caused by the thermomechanical erosion of the slab edge and slab thinning at shallow levels, both of which slow convergence with North America and lead eventually to plate capture.

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