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.

North American Plate
The North American Plate
TypeMajor
Approximate area75,900,000 km2 (29,300,000 sq mi)[1]
Movement1west
Speed115–25 mm (0.59–0.98 in)/year
FeaturesNorth America, Greenland, Bering Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean
1Relative to the African Plate

Boundaries

The southerly boundary with the Cocos Plate to the west and the Caribbean Plate to the east is a transform fault, represented by the Swan Islands Transform Fault under the Caribbean Sea and the Motagua Fault through Guatemala. The parallel Septentrional and Enriquillo–Plantain Garden faults, which run through the island of Hispaniola and bound the Gonâve Microplate, are also a part of the boundary. The rest of the southerly margin which extends east to the Mid Atlantic Ridge and marks the boundary between the North American Plate and the South American Plate is vague but located near the Fifteen-Twenty Fracture Zone around 16°N.

On the northerly boundary is a continuation of the Mid-Atlantic ridge called the Gakkel Ridge. The rest of the boundary in the far northwestern part of the plate extends into Siberia. This boundary continues from the end of the Gakkel Ridge as the Laptev Sea Rift, on to a transitional deformation zone in the Chersky Range, then the Ulakhan Fault between it and the Okhotsk Plate, and finally the Aleutian Trench to the end of the Queen Charlotte Fault system.

The westerly boundary is the Queen Charlotte Fault running offshore along the coast of Alaska and the Cascadia subduction zone to the north, the San Andreas Fault through California, the East Pacific Rise in the Gulf of California, and the Middle America Trench to the south.

On its western edge, the Farallon Plate has been subducting under the North American Plate since the Jurassic Period. The Farallon Plate has almost completely subducted beneath the western portion of the North American Plate leaving that part of the North American Plate in contact with the Pacific Plate as the San Andreas Fault. The Juan de Fuca, Explorer, Gorda, Rivera, Cocos and Nazca plates are remnants of the Farallon Plate.

The boundary along the Gulf of California is complex. The Gulf is underlain by the Gulf of California Rift Zone, a series of rift basins and transform fault segments between the northern end of the East Pacific Rise in the mouth of the gulf to the San Andreas Fault system in the vicinity of the Salton Trough rift/Brawley seismic zone.[2][3]

It is generally accepted that a piece of the North American Plate was broken off and transported north as the East Pacific Rise propagated northward, creating the Gulf of California. However, it is as yet unclear whether the oceanic crust east of the Rise and west of the mainland coast of Mexico is actually a new plate beginning to converge with the North American Plate, consistent with the standard model of rift zone spreading centers generally.

Hotspots

A few hotspots are thought to exist below the North American Plate. The most notable hotspots are the Yellowstone (Wyoming), Jemez Lineament (New Mexico), and Anahim (British Columbia) hotspots. These are thought to be caused by a narrow stream of hot mantle convecting up from the Earth's core–mantle boundary called a mantle plume,[4] although some geologists think that upper mantle convection is a more likely cause.[5][6] The Yellowstone and Anahim hotspots are thought to have first arrived during the Miocene period and are still geologically active, creating earthquakes and volcanoes. The Yellowstone hotspot is most notable for the Yellowstone Caldera and the many calderas that lie in the Snake River Plain while the Anahim hotspot is most notable for the Anahim Volcanic Belt, currently found in the Nazko Cone area.

Plate motion

For the most part, the North American Plate moves in roughly a southwest direction away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The motion of the plate cannot be driven by subduction as no part of the North American Plate is being subducted, except for a small section comprising part of the Puerto Rico Trench; thus other mechanisms continue to be investigated.

One recent study suggests that a mantle convective current is propelling the plate.[7]

See also

References

Notes
  1. ^ "Sizes of Tectonic or Lithospheric Plates". Geology.about.com. 2014-03-05. Retrieved 2016-01-11.
  2. ^ USGS Professional Paper 1515
  3. ^ USGS Farallon Plate maps
  4. ^ "Hotspots": Mantle thermal plumes
  5. ^ Earth's interior: Raising hot spots
  6. ^ Upper-mantle origin of the Yellowstone hotspot
  7. ^ Eaton, David W.; Frederiksen, Andrew (2007). "Seismic evidence for convection-driven motion of the North American plate". Nature. 446 (7134): 428–431. doi:10.1038/nature05675. PMID 17377580.
  8. ^ Feldman, Jay (2005). When the Mississippi Ran Backwards : Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes. Free Press. ISBN 978-0-7432-4278-3.
Aleutian Trench

The Aleutian Trench (or Aleutian Trough) is an oceanic trench along a convergent plate boundary which runs along the southern coastline of Alaska and the Aleutian islands. The trench extends for 3,400 km from a triple junction in the west with the Ulakhan Fault and the northern end of the Kuril–Kamchatka Trench, to a junction with the northern end of the Queen Charlotte Fault system in the east. It is classified as a "marginal trench" in the east as it runs along the margin of the continent. The subduction along the trench gives rise to the Aleutian arc, a volcanic island arc, where it runs through the open sea west of the Alaska Peninsula. As a convergent plate boundary, the trench forms part of the boundary between two tectonic plates. Here, the Pacific Plate is being subducted under the North American Plate at a dip angle of nearly 45°. The rate of closure is 3 inches (76 mm) per year.

Caribbean Plate

The Caribbean Plate is a mostly oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of South America.

Roughly 3.2 million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles) in area, the Caribbean Plate borders the North American Plate, the South American Plate, the Nazca Plate and the Cocos Plate. These borders are regions of intense seismic activity, including frequent earthquakes, occasional tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

Cascadia subduction zone

The Cascadia subduction zone (also referred to as the Cascadia fault, or Cascadia) is a convergent plate boundary that stretches from northern Vancouver Island in Canada to Northern California in the United States. It is a very long, sloping subduction zone where the Explorer, Juan de Fuca, and Gorda plates move to the east and slide below the much larger mostly continental North American Plate. The zone varies in width and lies offshore beginning near Cape Mendocino Northern California, passing through Oregon and Washington, and terminating at about Vancouver Island in British Columbia.The Explorer, Juan de Fuca, and Gorda plates are some of the remnants of the vast ancient Farallon Plate which is now mostly subducted under the North American Plate. The North American Plate itself is moving slowly in a generally southwest direction, sliding over the smaller plates as well as the huge oceanic Pacific Plate (which is moving in a northwest direction) in other locations such as the San Andreas Fault in central and southern California.

Tectonic processes active in the Cascadia subduction zone region include accretion, subduction, deep earthquakes, and active volcanism of the Cascades. This volcanism has included such notable eruptions as Mount Mazama (Crater Lake) about 7,500 years ago, the Mount Meager massif (Bridge River Vent) about 2,350 years ago, and Mount St. Helens in 1980. Major cities affected by a disturbance in this subduction zone include Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia; Seattle, Washington; and Portland, Oregon.

Cayman Trough

The Cayman Trough (also known as the Cayman Trench, Bartlett Deep and Bartlett Trough) is a complex transform fault zone pull-apart basin which contains a small spreading ridge, the Mid-Cayman Rise, on the floor of the western Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. It is the deepest point in the Caribbean Sea and forms part of the tectonic boundary between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. It extends from the Windward Passage, going south of the Sierra Maestra of Cuba toward Guatemala. The transform continues onshore as the Motagua Fault, which cuts across Guatemala and extends offshore under the Pacific Ocean, where it intersects the Middle America Trench subduction zone.

The relatively narrow trough trends east-northeast to west-southwest and has a maximum depth of 7,686 metres (25,217 ft). Within the trough is a slowly spreading north-south ridge which may be the result of an offset or gap of approximately 420 kilometres (260 mi) along the main fault trace. The Cayman spreading ridge shows a long-term opening rate of 11–12 mm/yr. The eastern section of the trough has been named the Gonâve Microplate. The Gonâve plate extends from the spreading ridge east to the island of Hispaniola. It is bounded on the north by the Oriente and Septentrional fault zones. On the south the Gonâve is bounded by the Walton fault zone, the Jamaica restraining bend and the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone. The two bounding strike slip fault zones are left lateral. The motion relative to the North American Plate is 11 mm/yr to the east and the motion relative to the Caribbean Plate is 8 mm/yr. The western section of the trough is bounded to its south by the Swan Islands Transform Fault.During the Eocene the trough was the site of a subduction zone which formed the volcanic arc of the Cayman Ridge and the Sierra Maestra volcanic terrain of Cuba to the north, as the northeastward-moving Caribbean Plate was subducted beneath the southwest-moving North American Plate, or as some researchers contend, beneath a plate fragment dubbed the East Cuban Microplate.In 2010 a UK team from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton (NOCS), equipped with an autonomously controlled robot submarine, began mapping the full extent of the trench and discovered black smokers on the ocean floor at a depth of 5 km (3.1 mi), the deepest yet found. In January 2012, the researchers announced that water exits the vents at a temperature possibly exceeding 450 °C (842 °F), making them among the hottest known undersea vents. They also announced the discovery of new species, including an eyeless shrimp with a light-sensing organ on its back.

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.

East Pacific Rise

The East Pacific Rise is a mid-oceanic ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary located along the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It separates the Pacific Plate to the west from (north to south) the North American Plate, the Rivera Plate, the Cocos Plate, the Nazca Plate, and the Antarctic Plate. It runs south from the Gulf of California in the Salton Sea basin in Southern California to a point near 55° S, 130° W, where it joins the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge trending west-southwest towards Antarctica, near New Zealand (though in some uses the PAR is regarded as the southern section of the EPR). Much of the rise lies about 3200 km (2000 mi) off the South American coast and rises about 1,800–2,700 m (6,000–9,000 ft) above the surrounding seafloor.

Eurasian Plate

The Eurasian Plate is a tectonic plate which includes most of the continent of Eurasia (a landmass consisting of the traditional continents of Europe and Asia), with the notable exceptions of the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian subcontinent, and the area east of the Chersky Range in East Siberia. It also includes oceanic crust extending westward to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and northward to the Gakkel Ridge.

The eastern side is a boundary with the North American Plate to the north and a boundary with the Philippine Sea Plate to the south and possibly with the Okhotsk Plate and the Amurian Plate. The southerly side is a boundary with the African Plate to the west, the Arabian Plate in the middle and the Indo-Australian Plate to the east. The westerly side is a divergent boundary with the North American Plate forming the northernmost part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is straddled by Iceland. All of the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, such as the 1973 eruption of Eldfell, the 1783 eruption of Laki, and the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, are caused by the North American and the Eurasian Plates moving apart, which is a result of divergent plate boundary forces.

The geodynamics of central Asia is dominated by the interaction between the Eurasian and Indian Plates. In this area, many subplates or crust blocks have been recognized, which form the Central Asian and the East Asian transit zones.

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.

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.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.

Gonâve Microplate

The Gonâve Microplate forms part of the boundary between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. It is bounded to the west by the Cayman spreading center, to the north by the Septentrional-Oriente fault zone and to the south by the Walton fault zone and the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone. The existence of this microplate was first proposed in 1991. This has been confirmed by GPS measurements, which show that the overall displacement between the two main plates is split almost equally between the transform fault zones that bound the Gonâve microplate. The microplate is expected to eventually become accreted to the North American Plate.

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.

List of tectonic plates

This is a list of tectonic plates on the Earth's surface. Tectonic plates are pieces of Earth's crust and uppermost mantle, together referred to as the lithosphere. The plates are around 100 km (62 mi) thick and consist of two principal types of material: oceanic crust (also called sima from silicon and magnesium) and continental crust (sial from silicon and aluminium). The composition of the two types of crust differs markedly, with mafic basaltic rocks dominating oceanic crust, while continental crust consists principally of lower-density felsic granitic rocks.

Okhotsk Plate

The Okhotsk Plate is a minor tectonic plate covering the Sea of Okhotsk, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Sakhalin Island and Tōhoku and Hokkaidō in Japan. It was formerly considered a part of the North American Plate, but recent studies indicate that it is an independent plate, bounded on the north by the North American Plate. The boundary is a left-lateral moving transform fault, the Ulakhan Fault. On the east, the plate is bounded by the Pacific Plate at the Kuril-Kamchatka Trench and the Japan Trench, on the south by the Philippine Sea Plate at the Nankai Trough, on the west by the Eurasian Plate, and possibly on the southwest by the Amurian Plate.

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.

San Andreas Fault

The San Andreas Fault is a continental transform fault that extends roughly 1,200 kilometers (750 mi) through California. It forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, and its motion is right-lateral strike-slip (horizontal). The fault divides into three segments, each with different characteristics and a different degree of earthquake risk. The slip rate along the fault ranges from 20 to 35 mm (0.79 to 1.38 in)/yr.The fault was identified in 1895 by Professor Andrew Lawson of UC Berkeley, who discovered the northern zone. It is often described as having been named after San Andreas Lake, a small body of water that was formed in a valley between the two plates. However, according to some of his reports from 1895 and 1908, Lawson actually named it after the surrounding San Andreas Valley. Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Lawson concluded that the fault extended all the way into southern California.

In 1953, geologist Thomas Dibblee concluded that hundreds of miles of lateral movement could occur along the fault. A project called the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) near Parkfield, Monterey County, was drilled through the fault during 2004–2007 to collect material and make physical and chemical observations to better understand fault behavior.

West Indies

The West Indies is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean that includes the island countries and surrounding waters of three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan Archipelago.The region includes all the islands in or bordering the Caribbean Sea, plus The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are in the Atlantic Ocean. Depending on the context, some references to the West Indies may include some nations of northern South America that share the history and culture of the West Indian islands.

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