Farallon Plate

The Farallon Plate was an ancient oceanic plate that began subducting under the west coast of the North American Plate—then located in modern Utah—as Pangaea broke apart during the Jurassic period. It is named for the Farallon Islands, which are located just west of San Francisco, California.

Over time, the central part of the Farallon Plate was completely subducted under the southwestern part of the North American Plate. The remains of the Farallon Plate are the Juan de Fuca, Explorer and Gorda Plates, subducting under the northern part of the North American Plate; the Cocos Plate subducting under Central America; and the Nazca Plate subducting under the South American Plate.[1]

The Farallon Plate is also responsible for transporting old island arcs and various fragments of continental crustal material rifted off from other distant plates and accreting them to the North American Plate.

These fragments from elsewhere are called terranes (sometimes, "exotic" terranes). Much of western North America is composed of these accreted terranes.

San Andreas Fault Sequential Diagrams
Formation of the Juan de Fuca (including Explorer and Gorda) and Cocos plates (including Rivera) and of the San Andreas Fault from the Farallon plate
Cascadia subduction zone USGS
Region of the modern Cascadia subduction zone
Farallon Plate
A software model by NASA of the remnants of the Farallon Plate, deep in Earth's mantle.

Current state

The understanding of the Farallon Plate is rapidly evolving as details from seismic tomography provide improved details of the submerged remnants.[2] Since the North American west coast shows a convoluted structure, significant work has been required to resolve the complexity. In 2013 a new and more nuanced explanation emerged, proposing two additional now-subducted plates which would account for some of the complexity.[3]

Historic view

As data accumulated, a common view developed that one large oceanic plate, the Farallon plate, acted as a conveyor belt, conveying terranes to North America's west coast, where they accreted. As the continent overran the subducting Farallon plate, the denser plate became subducted into the mantle below the continent. When the plates converged, the dense oceanic plate sank into the mantle to form a slab below the lighter continent.[4]

Farallon Plate subduction forms North American Cordillera

As of 2013, it is generally accepted that the western quarter of North America consists of accreted terrane accumulated over the past 200 million years as a result of the oceanic Farallon plate moving terranes onto the continental margin as it subducts under the continent. However this simple model was unable to explain many terrane complexities, and is inconsistent with seismic tomographic images of subducting slabs penetrating the lower-mantle. In April 2013 Sigloch and Mihalynuk noted that under North America these subducting slabs formed massive, essentially vertical walls of 800 km to 2,000 km deep and 400–600 km wide, forming "slab walls". One such large "slab wall" runs from north-west Canada to the eastern U.S. and extends to Central America; this "slab wall" had traditionally been associated with the subducting Farallon plate. Sigloch and Mihalynuk proposed that the Farallon should be partitioned into Northern Farallon, Angayucham, Mezcalera and Southern Farallon segments based on recent tomographic models. Under this model, the North American continent overrides a series of subduction trenches and incorporates microcontinents (similar to those in the modern-day Indonesian archipelago) as it moves west in the following sequence:[5]

  • 165–155 Myr ago the Mezcalera promontory (the leading terrane to strike North America) strikes land and begins to be overridden. The overridden segment is replaced by an incipient South Farallon trench.
  • 160–155 Myr ago the Rocky Mountain deformation begins, recorded by a synorogenic (formed contemporaneously with the orogen) clastic wedge. The Franciscan subduction complex on the South Farallon plate begins.
  • 125 Myr ago the collision of the North America margin with an archipelago of terranes (Mezcalera / Angayucham /Southern Farallon island arcs) begins. This broad expanse causes strong deformations and creates the Sevier Mountains and the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
  • 124–90 Myr ago the Omenica magmatic belts are formed in the Pacific Northwest along with a gradual override of the Mezcalera promontory by the Pacific Northwest.
  • 85 Myr ago the South Farallon trench moves westward after accretion of the Shatsky Rise Conjugate plateau. Sonora volcanism results from the slab sinking. The Tarahumara ignimbrite province is formed.
  • 85–55 Myr ago Strong transpressive coupling of Farallon plate to terranes produces the buoyant Shatsky Rise. The Laramide orogeny results from basement uplift more than 1,000 km inland.
  • 72–69 Myr ago the Angayucham arc, is overridden by North America and Carmacks volcanic episode results.
  • 85–55 Myr ago Conjugate subducts. Northward shuffle of Insular terrane, Intermontane terrane, and Angayucham terranes along margin.
  • 55–50 Myr ago saw the override of the Cascadia Root arc by the Pacific Northwest along with accretion of the Siletzia and Pacific Rim terranes.
  • 55–50 Myr ago Final override of westernmost Angayucham occurred, with an explosive end of Coast Mountain arc volcanism

When the final archipelago, the Siletzia archipelago lodged as a terrane, the associated trench stepped west as the terrane accreted, converting an intra-oceanic subduction trench into the current Cascadia subduction zone and creating a slab window.[6]

See also



  1. ^ Lonsdale, Peter (2005-08-01). "Creation of the Cocos and Nazca plates by fission of the Farallon plate". Tectonophysics. 404 (3–4): 237–264. Bibcode:2005Tectp.404..237L. doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2005.05.011.
  2. ^ Goes 2013.
  3. ^ Sigloch & Mihalynuk 2013.
  4. ^ Goes 2013.
  5. ^ Sigloch & Mihalynuk 2013.
  6. ^ Goes 2013; Sigloch & Mihalynuk 2013.


External links

Basin and Range Province

The Basin and Range Province is a vast physiographic region covering much of the inland Western United States and northwestern Mexico. It is defined by unique basin and range topography, characterized by abrupt changes in elevation, alternating between narrow faulted mountain chains and flat arid valleys or basins. The physiography of the province is the result of tectonic extension that began around 17 million years ago in the early Miocene epoch.

The numerous ranges within the province in the United States are collectively referred to as the "Great Basin Ranges", although many are not actually in the Great Basin. Major ranges include the Snake Range, the Panamint Range, the White Mountains, the Sandia Mountains, and the Tetons. The highest point fully within the province is White Mountain Peak in California, while the lowest point is the Badwater Basin in Death Valley at −282 feet (−86 m). The province's climate is arid, with numerous ecoregions. Most North American deserts are located within it.

Clarence Dutton famously compared the many narrow parallel mountain ranges that distinguish the unique topography of the Basin and Range to an "army of caterpillars marching toward Mexico." The Basin and Range Province should not be confused with The Great Basin, which is a sub-section of the greater Basin and Range physiographic region defined by its unique hydrological characteristics (internal drainage).

Cocos Plate

The Cocos Plate is a young oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Central America, named for Cocos Island, which rides upon it. The Cocos Plate was created approximately 23 million years ago when the Farallon Plate broke into two pieces, which also created the Nazca Plate. The Cocos Plate also broke into two pieces, creating the small Rivera Plate. The Cocos Plate is bounded by several different plates. To the northeast it is bounded by the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. To the west it is bounded by the Pacific Plate and to the south by the Nazca Plate.

Explorer Plate

The Explorer Plate is an oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada and is partially subducted under the North American Plate. Along with the Juan De Fuca Plate and Gorda Plate, the Explorer Plate is a remnant of the ancient Farallon Plate which has been subducted under the North American Plate. The Explorer Plate separated from the Juan De Fuca Plate roughly 4 million years ago. In its smoother, southern half, the average depth of the Explorer plate is roughly 2,400 metres (7,900 ft) and rises up in its northern half to a highly variable basin between 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) and 2,200 metres (7,200 ft) in depth.

Explorer Ridge

The Explorer Ridge is a mid-ocean ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary located about 241 km (150 mi) west of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It lies at the northern extremity of the Pacific spreading axis. To its east is the Explorer Plate, which together with the Juan de Fuca Plate and the Gorda Plate to its south, is what remains of the once-vast Farallon Plate which has been largely subducted under the North American Plate. The Explorer Ridge consists of one major segment, the Southern Explorer Ridge, and several smaller segments. It runs northward from the Sovanco Fracture Zone to the Queen Charlotte Triple Junction, a point where it meets the Queen Charlotte Fault and the northern Cascadia subduction zone.

Farallon Trench

The Farallon Trench was a subduction related tectonic formation located off the coast of the western California continental margin during the late to mid Cenozoic era, around 50 miles southeast of modern-day Monterey Bay. The time duration of subduction began from around 165 Ma when the Farallon Plate replaced the Mezczlera promontory, until the San Andreas Fault straightening around 35 Ma. As data accumulated over time, a common view developed that one large oceanic plate, the Farallon Plate, acted as a conveyor belt, conveying accreted terranes onto the North American west coast. As the continent overran the subducting Farallon Plate, the denser plate became subducted into the mantle below the continent. When the plates converged, the dense oceanic plate sank into the mantle to form a slab below the lighter continent. Rapid subduction under the southwestern North America continent began 40 to 60 million years ago (Ma), during the mid Paleocene to mid Eocene epochs. This convergent subduction margin created a distinctive geomorphologic feature called an oceanic trench, which occurs at a convergent plate boundaries as a heavy metal rich, lithospheric plate moves below a light silica rich continental plate. The trench marks the position at which the flexed subducting slab begins to descend beneath and deform the continental plate margin. By 43 Ma, during the Eocene, worldwide plate motions changed and the Pacific Plate began to move away from North America and subduction of the Farallon Plate slowed dramatically. By around 36 Ma, the easternmost part of the East Pacific Rise, located between the Pioneer and Murray fracture zones at that time, approached the trench and the young, hot, buoyant lithosphere appears to have clogged part of the subduction zone, resulting in widespread dramatic uplift on land. The eventual complete subduction of this plate, consequential contact of the Pacific Plate with the California continental margin, and creation of the Mendocino Triple Junction (MTJ), took place around 30 to 20 Ma. The partial complete subduction and division of the Farallon Plate by the Pacific Plate, created the Juan de Fuca Plate to the north and the Cocos Plate to the south. The final stages of the evolution of California's continental margin was the growth of the San Andres transform fault system, which formed as the Pacific Plate came into contact with the continental margin and the MTJ was formed. As subduction of the Pacific Plate continued along this margin, and the contact zone grew, the San Andres proportionally grew as well.

Geology of Nevada

The geology of Nevada began to form in the Proterozoic at the western margin of North America. Terranes accreted to the continent as a marine environment dominated the area through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic periods. Intense volcanism, the horst and graben landscape of the Basin and Range Province originating from the Farallon Plate, and both glaciers and valley lakes have played important roles in the region throughout the past 66 million years.

Geology of New Mexico

The geology of New Mexico formed beginning over 1.7 billion years ago in the Proterozoic as several poorly understood terranes merged. Five types of igneous and metamorphic crystalline basement rock date to the Precambrian. Throughout the Paleozoic, marine sediments and evaporites formed, followed by a series of major mountain building events and volcanism associated with the subduction of the Farallon Plate. Terrestrial conditions persisted until the late Mesozoic, when a marine transgression flooded the region. Significant volcanic activity including ash falls, lava flows and caldera collapse have defined the Cenozoic in New Mexico, along with the horst and graben rifting of the Basin and Range Province and the formation of the Rio Grande Rift.

Gorda Plate

The Gorda Plate, located beneath the Pacific Ocean off the coast of northern California, is one of the northern remnants of the Farallon Plate. It is sometimes referred to (by, for example, publications from the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program) as simply the southernmost portion of the neighboring Juan de Fuca Plate, another Farallon remnant.

Unlike most tectonic plates, the Gorda Plate experiences significant intraplate deformation inside its boundaries. Numerous faults have been mapped in both the sediments and basement of the Gorda Basin, which is in the interior of the plate south of 41.6°N. Stresses from the neighboring North American Plate and Pacific Plate cause frequent earthquakes in the interior of the plate, including the 1980 Eureka earthquake (also known as the Gorda Basin event).The easterly side is a convergent boundary subducting under the North American Plate in northern California. The southerly side is a transform boundary with the Pacific Plate along the Mendocino Fault. The westerly side is a divergent boundary with the Pacific Plate forming the Gorda Ridge. This ridge provides morphological evidence of differing spreading rates, with the northern portion of the ridge being narrow, and the southern portion being wide. The northerly side is a transform boundary with the Juan de Fuca Plate, the Blanco Fracture Zone.

The subducting Gorda Plate is connected with the volcanoes in northern California, namely, Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak. Lassen Peak last erupted in 1914–1917.

Juan de Fuca Plate

The Juan de Fuca Plate is a tectonic plate generated from the Juan de Fuca Ridge that is subducting under the northerly portion of the western side of the North American Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone. It is named after the explorer of the same name. One of the smallest of Earth's tectonic plates, the Juan de Fuca Plate is a remnant part of the once-vast Farallon Plate, which is now largely subducted underneath the North American Plate.

Juan de Fuca Ridge

The Juan de Fuca Ridge is a mid-ocean spreading center and divergent plate boundary located off the coast of the Pacific Northwest region of North America. The ridge separates the Pacific Plate to the west and the Juan de Fuca Plate to the east. It runs generally northward, with a length of approximately 500 kilometers (300 miles). The ridge is a section of what remains from the larger Pacific-Farallon Ridge which used to be the primary spreading center of this region, driving the Farallon Plate underneath the North American Plate through the process of plate tectonics. Today, the Juan de Fuca Ridge pushes the Juan de Fuca Plate underneath the North American plate, forming the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Kula Plate

The Kula Plate was an oceanic tectonic plate under the northern Pacific Ocean south of the Near Islands segment of the Aleutian Islands. It has been subducted under the North American Plate at the Aleutian Trench, being replaced by the Pacific Plate.

The name Kula is from a Tlingit language word meaning "all gone". As the name suggests, the Kula Plate was entirely subducted around 48 Ma and today only a slab in the mantle under the Bering Sea remains.

Masset Formation

The Masset Formation is a volcanic formation on Graham Island of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, Canada. It consists of calc-alkaline volcanic rocks related to subduction of the pre-existing Farallon Plate. The Masset Formation is part of the Pemberton Volcanic Belt.

Nazca Plate

The Nazca Plate, named after the Nazca region of southern Peru, is an oceanic tectonic plate in the eastern Pacific Ocean basin off the west coast of South America. The ongoing subduction, along the Peru–Chile Trench, of the Nazca Plate under the South American Plate is largely responsible for the Andean orogeny. The Nazca Plate is bounded on the west by the Pacific Plate and to the south by the Antarctic Plate through the East Pacific Rise and the Chile Rise respectively. The movement of the Nazca Plate over several hotspots has created some volcanic islands as well as east-west running seamount chains that subduct under South America. Nazca is a relatively young plate both in terms of the age of its rocks and its existence as an independent plate having been formed from the break-up of the Farallon Plate about 23 million years ago. The oldest rocks of the plate are about 50 million years old.

North American Plate

The North American Plate is a tectonic plate covering most of North America, Greenland, Cuba, the Bahamas, extreme northeastern Asia, and parts of Iceland and the Azores. With an area of 76,000,000 km2 (29,000,000 sq mi), it is the Earth's second largest tectonic plate, behind the Pacific Plate (which borders the plate to the west).

It extends eastward to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and westward to the Chersky Range in eastern Siberia. The plate includes both continental and oceanic crust. The interior of the main continental landmass includes an extensive granitic core called a craton. Along most of the edges of this craton are fragments of crustal material called terranes, which are accreted to the craton by tectonic actions over a long span of time. It is thought that much of North America west of the Rocky Mountains is composed of such terranes.

Pacific-Farallon Ridge

The Pacific-Farallon Ridge was a spreading ridge during the late Cretaceous that extended 10,000 km in length and separated the Pacific Plate to the west and the Farallon Plate to the east. It ran south from the Pacific-Farallon-Kula triple junction at 51°N to the Pacific-Farallon-Antarctic triple junction at 43°S. As the Farallon Plate subducted obliquely under the North American Plate, the Pacific-Farallon Ridge approached and eventually made contact with the North American Plate about 30 million years ago. On average, this ridge had an equatorial spreading rate of 13.5 cm per year until its eventual collision with the North American Plate. In present day, the Pacific-Farallon Ridge no longer formally exists since the Farallon Plate has been broken up or subducted beneath the North American Plate, and the ridge has segmented, having been mostly subducted as well. The most notable remnant of the Pacific-Farallon Ridge is the 4000 km Pacific-Nazca segment of the East Pacific Rise.

Pemberton Volcanic Belt

The Pemberton Volcanic Belt is an eroded Oligocene-Miocene volcanic belt at a low angle near the Mount Meager massif, British Columbia, Canada. The Garibaldi and Pemberton volcanic belts appear to merge into a single belt, although the Pemberton is older than the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt. The Pemberton Volcanic Belt is one of the geological formations comprising the Canadian Cascade Arc. It formed as a result of subduction of the former Farallon Plate.

Phoenix Plate

The Phoenix Plate (also known as the Aluk or Drake Plate) was an ancient tectonic plate that existed during the mid-Cretaceous through early Cenozoic time. The remainder of the plate is now located east of the Drake Passage/Shackleton Fracture Zone.

The Phoenix Plate began subducting under the Antarctic Plate. The Phoenix Ridge, a mid-oceanic ridge between the Pacific and the Phoenix Plates which had a spreading rate of 18–20 cm per year until around 84 Ma. A major decrease in spreading rate, and the convergence rate with the Antarctic Plate occurred around 52.3 Ma. During the Late Cretaceous, the Phoenix Plate fragmented into the Charcot Plate, much in the same way in which the Rivera and the Cocos Plate were formed by the fragmentation of the Farallon Plate.The Antarctic-Phoenix Ridge (sometimes also called the Phoenix Ridge) consists of three extinct spreading ridge segments between the Antarctic Peninsula and the Scotia Sea. This ridge was initiated during the Late Cretaceous-Early Tertiary when the plate had divergent boundaries with the Bellingshausen and Pacific Plates. Bellingshausen was fused with the Antarctic Plate around 61 Ma and the Phoenix plate was gradually subducted by the Antarctic Plate as the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge propagated. The last collision between ridge crest segments and the subduction zone happened around 6.5 Ma and spreading had ceased entirely by 3.3 Ma when the small remnant of the Phoenix Plate was incorporated into the Antarctic Plate. The South Shetland Trough is the south-eastern boundary of the remnant and the Shackleton Fracture Zone is its north-eastern boundary.

Slab pull

Slab pull is that part of the motion of a tectonic plate caused by its subduction. In 1975 Forsyth and Uyeda showed using inverse theory methods that of the many likely driving forces of plates slab pull was the strongest. Plate motion is partly driven by the weight of cold, dense plates sinking into the mantle at oceanic trenches. This force and slab suction account for almost all of the force driving plate tectonics. The ridge push at rifts contributes only 5 to 10%.

Carlson et al. (1983) in Lallemandet al. (2005) defined the slab pull force as:


K is 4.2g (gravitational acceleration = 9.81 m/s2) according to McNutt (1984);
Δρ = 80 kg/m3 is the mean density difference between the slab and the surrounding asthenosphere;
L is the slab length calculated only for the part above 670 km (the upper/lower mantle boundary);
A is the slab age in Ma at the trench.

The slab pull force manifests itself between two extreme forms:

Between these two examples there is the evolution of the Farallon Plate: from the huge slab width with the Nevada, the Sevier and Laramide orogenies; the Mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up and later left as Juan de Fuca and Cocos plates, the Basin and Range Province under extension, with slab break off, smaller slab width, more edges and mantle return flow.

Some early models of plate tectonics envisioned the plates riding on top of convection cells like conveyor belts. However, most scientists working today believe that the asthenosphere does not directly cause motion by the friction of such basal forces. The North American Plate is nowhere being subducted, yet it is in motion. Likewise the African, Eurasian and Antarctic Plates. Ridge push is thought responsible for the motion of these plates.

The subducting slabs around the Pacific Ring of Fire cool down the Earth and its Core-mantle boundary. Around the African Plate upwelling mantle plumes from the Core-mantle boundary produce rifting including the African and Ethiopian rift valleys.

Tongareva triple junction

The Tongareva triple junction, also called the Pacific-Farallon-Phoenix triple junction, was a geologic triple junction in the southwestern Pacific Basin where three tectonic plates met: the Pacific Plate, the Farallon Plate, and the Phoenix Plate. It existed throughout the mid-Cretaceous period and consisted of three mid-ocean ridges. A volcanic episode from 125 to 120 million years ago created an oceanic plateau east of Samoa called the Manihiki Plateau.

Cenozoic era
(present–66.0 Mya)
Mesozoic era
(66.0–251.902 Mya)
Paleozoic era
(251.902–541.0 Mya)
Proterozoic eon
(541.0 Mya–2.5 Gya)
Archean eon (2.5–4 Gya)
Hadean eon (4–4.6 Gya)


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