Abstract

The Queen Charlotte fault (QCF) is a dextral transform system located offshore of southeastern Alaska and western Canada, accommodating ∼4.4  cm/yr of relative motion between the Pacific and North American plates. Oblique convergence along the fault increases southward, and how this convergence is accommodated is still debated. Using seismic reflection data, we interpret offshore basement structure, faulting, and stratigraphy to provide a geological context for two recent earthquakes, an Mw 7.5 strike‐slip event near Craig, Alaska, and an Mw 7.8 thrust event near Haida Gwaii, Canada. We map downwarped Pacific oceanic crust near 54° N, between the two rupture zones. Observed downwarping decreases north and south of 54° N, parallel to the strike of the QCF. Bending of the Pacific plate here may have initiated with increased convergence rates due to a plate motion change at ∼6  Ma. Tectonic reconstruction implies convergence‐driven Pacific plate flexure, beginning at 6 Ma south of a 10° bend the QCF (which is currently at 53.2° N) and lasting until the plate translated past the bend by ∼2  Ma. Normal‐faulted approximately late Miocene sediment above the deep flexural depression at 54° N, topped by relatively undeformed Pleistocene and younger sediment, supports this model. Aftershocks of the Haida Gwaii event indicate a normal‐faulting stress regime, suggesting present‐day plate flexure and underthrusting, which is also consistent with reconstruction of past conditions. We thus favor a Pacific plate underthrusting model to initiate flexure and accommodation space for sediment loading. In addition, mapped structures indicate two possible fault segment boundaries along the QCF at 53.2° N and at 56° N.

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