Abstract

Understanding the relative motion between the Pacific plate and its neighboring plates in the Paleogene has important consequences for deciphering the relationship between absolute and relative plate motions in the Pacific Ocean basin, the history of circum-Pacific subduction, and the cause of the Hawaiian-Emperor bend (HEB). We quantitatively model the Farallon/Vancouver-Pacific-Antarctic seafloor spreading history from 67 to 33 Ma based on a comprehensive synthesis of magnetic anomaly and fracture identifications. We find a well-constrained increase from 75 ± 5 mm/yr to 101 ± 5 mm/yr in Pacific-Farallon full spreading rates between 57.6 Ma and 55.9 Ma, followed by a stepwise increase to 182 ± 2 mm/yr from 49.7 to 40.1 Ma. The increases in Pacific-Farallon spreading rates are not accompanied by any statistically significant change in spreading direction. The 57.6–55.9 Ma surge of Pacific-Farallon spreading reflects an eastward acceleration in Farallon plate motion, as it precedes west Pacific subduction initiation and is not associated with any significant change in Pacific-Antarctic spreading. We interpret the increase in Pacific-Farallon spreading rates after ca. 50 Ma as a consequence of further acceleration in Farallon plate motion. We find no indication of a major change in Pacific plate absolute motion at this time. Our model suggests that changes in relative motion direction between the Pacific and Farallon and Pacific and Antarctic plates were insignificant around the formation time of the HEB (ca. 47.5 Ma), and the bend is largely a consequence of Hawaiian hotspot motion, which ceased rapid motion after 47 Ma.

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