Abstract

The concave-inboard (concave toward the overriding plate) geometry of most convergent margins is considered a natural consequence of the depression of the edge of a thin spherical cap, whereas concave-outboard margin segments commonly form around indenters on the subducting plate. At the Cascadia subduction zone, the apex of a >500-km-long concave-outboard bend in the trench presently shows no obvious subduction of an indenter, but does coincide with the axis of an outboard-facing concavity in upper-plate rocks arched around the Olympic Peninsula in northwestern Washington State, USA. Here we synthesize paleomagnetic and structural data together with new analyses of Global Navigation Satellite System data to show that the upper plate at Cascadia has been folded from the Miocene to the present into an orocline with an axial trace that bisects the Olympic Peninsula. The processes that accommodate bending, which we suggest include (1) folding by flexural slip on the orocline limbs and (2) shortening, uplift, and escape within the core of the fold at the Olympic Mountains, have the combined result of relative motion of the forearc towards the arc at the core of the orocline, and sustained opposing rotations of the upper plate on the orocline limbs. We propose that oroclinal bending is promoted and maintained by along-strike variations in plate-boundary tractions resulting from the geometry of the plate interface at depth and suggest that these processes can contribute to the development of concave-outboard margins without the need for a subducting indenter.

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