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EARTH AND PLANETARY SCIENCE LETTERS 7 (1970) 445-450. NORTH-HOLLAND PUBLISHING COMP.

, AMSTERDAM

MAGNETIC LINEATIONS IN THE NORTHEAST PACIFIC

Tanya ATWATER
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego,
La Jolla, California, USA

and
H.W.MENARD
Institute of Marine Resources, Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA

Received 17 September 1969


Revised manuscript received 5 January 1970

Magnetic data for the northeast Pacific are summarized and interpreted in terms of sea floor spreading. Unclear
areas exist in the "disturbed zone" and west of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. The direction of spreading changed about
55 my ago. An intermediate plate was gradually destroyed as segments of the ridge neared the continent and the
timing of this destruction appears related to the timing of the origin of the San Andreas fault system.

Fig. 1 shows our interpretation of anomalies on all dictably have great relief [24] and are well known
magnetic lines available to us in the northeast Pacific. from detailed surveys [25]. On the other hand,
An earlier version of this was presented by Atwater fracture zones with relatively small offsets have very
and Menard [19] and Menard [20] .. The data used little topographic expression and often could only be
were compiled from sources indicated in fig. 2. The inferred from the anomaly offsets. For these zones
numbering of the anomalies follows the time scale of the control of the actual position and orientation is
Heirtzler et al. [21]. When these anomaly numbers very poor. They are dashed in the figures with solid
are used in the text they will be followed by ages lines in places where they can be located by incon-
from the same time scale in millions of years before sistencies in the anomaly profiles which cross them.
present. Although these ages were quite speculative The anomalies west and southwest of Baja Calif-
when they were proposed, they now appear to be ornia are based upon new data from numerous short
approximately correct [22, 23]. Track lines for the cruises. A detailed compilation and interpretation of
profiles used are shown in fig. 2. Comparison of these data is given by Chase et al. [16]. The trace of
figs. 1 and 2 shows our control on the existence and the spreading system within the Gulf of California
orientation of the anomalies. We have dashed the was inferred from topography [26] and the major
anomaly lines where they were obviously extrapolat- faults in the San Andreas system were taken from
ed without control. Also evident from the compar- Dickinson and Grantz [27]. Data for the Gulf of
ison of the figures is the fact that in some areas no Alaska are from Pitman and Hayes [5] and we concur
reasonable interpretation could be found for existing with most of their identifications of anomalies. How-
data. ever, we postulate a different orientation for the
The locations and trends of many of the fracture anomalies and relocate the fracture zones so that
zones were found from their topographic expression. anomalies usually have consistent trends throughout
Zones which offset anomalies by large amounts pre- the region for any given age. This new interpretation
446 T.ATWATER and H.W.MENARD

-' ' ' ' ........ "" Y ' ' 5t:lTi t",'l'~ifl~','l .... ,,' ' ~ ' ........ '

t
S jj
55* -'"" ' ~;i i ,, ', o~
-- ..........

15. --- I:

?
52. ~- T ' T "

45*
52

',, \\ ~\
"!'i-i£i
'S~OI~'VEYOR

40*
', " ".." T.~'~ ~
• pltOr~
- l

55"
\
~,0"

25* 30 , ~-% \\\\M IF.Z-

*" ~ 15 8
20*

I : ~ ] , l ~ l l 1 i I I I I I I I I ] i i,, ] J, ~ I I, I IiI I I I I ] I '' ' l j ' ' ' ] ' l ' ' l l ' j q l '
170" I65 ° 160 ° 155 ° 150 ° 145" 140" 155 ° 150" 125" 120 ° 115" IIO* 105"

Fig. 1. Magnetic anomalies in the northeast Pacific. Numbers refer to the time scale of Heirtzler et al. [21 ].
See text for discussion.

has been used by Hayes and Pitman [28]. lel to the spreading direction, fracture zones are indi-
In regions of sparse data, interpretation of trends cators of the pale, direction of spreading. Using these
and offsets was aided by use of some basic principles concepts and the assumption that ridge crests are
derived from plate tectonics theories [29-31]. In perpendicular to transform faults, we have developed
these idealizations, spreading occurs at a boundary various possibilities for configurations of ridges and
between large rigid moving plates of lithospere. Mag- transform faults when the direction of spreading
netic anomalies are created along ridge crests and changes [32]. We found that particular patterns
fracture zones are created along ridge-ridge transform ("Zed patterns") of anomalies are created and that on
faults, the entire pattern moving as a unit away from long straight segments of ridge crests, new transform
the spreading center. Thus, in any plate, the configu- faults might be created ([32], fig. 5). It was encour-
ration of a given anomaly with its offsets along frac- aging to find that in most cases where sufficient data
ture zones is a replica of the configuration of the exist to establish trends independently, they agree
pale, ridge crest with its offsets along transform remarkably well with the predicted ones.
faults. Furthermore, since transform faults are paral- A few areas exist that cannot so far be reconciled
MAGNETICLINEATIONSIN THE NORTHEASTPACIFIC 447

55*

iiiii!ii!!iii~
.....~iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!iiiiHii!iii~,-,,
50* --:5~iiiiiiiiiiii~ii~iii~iiiiiiiiiii!iii~iii~ ',,
-~"~ iiiiiiiiiiiii!iiiiii!Qiiiiiiiii~,~,,i:;,
/~ 5~

45*

iiiiiii~iiiiii~

12-:--
.........~iiiiii!!!!!!i!!!i!iiii!iiiiiiiii ",'
40*
~iljiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiil ',

.... 4
:55*

~iiiiiiiiiiiii!iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii"~

50*

25*

~ 6 6 j
20*
/ c ) / ~ --9-- -9 ~

170 ° 165 ° 160 ° 155" 150 ° 145 ° 140 ° 155 ° 150 ° 125 ° 120 ° 115 ° I10 ° 105 °

Fig. 2. Track lines and detailed survey areas for which magnetic measurements were compiled. Numbers refer to data sources
which are listed below as references.

to simple spreading between two or three large rigid tern begins to break down. Some anomalies are miss-
plates. One is the "disturbed zone" between the Mur- ing or repeated and fracture zone offsets disappear.
ray and Molokai fracture zones where too much The configuration of given anomalies becomes con-
(400 kin) sea floor exists between anomaly 21 fused as indicated by the question marks, and the
(53 my) and anomaly 13 (38 my) compared to the manner of evolution of the present spreading system
surrounding region. Another is the section south of from the former is not clear.
the Molokai zone where about 250 km of sea floor Aside from these problems, two major happenings
seems to be missing between anomalies 21 and 16 in the spreading history of the northeast Pacific can
(42 my). Ridges offset by great distances sometimes be detected from the anomaly patterns shown in
tend to jump in order to straighten themselves and fig. 1. One is a change in spreading direction at about
the first of these problem areas might be the result of the time of anomalies 23-21 (58-53 my). This
such a jump [24]. Another problem area lies west of change is expressed in the reorientation of the frac-
the Gorda and Juan de Fuca ridges. For anomalies ture zones and anomalies [32] and in the creation of
younger than anomaly 12 (35 my) the orderly pat- new fracture zones in the long straight segment of
448 T.ATWATER and H.W.MENARD

ridge crest east of the magnetic bight. Fig. 3 shows considering spreading systems, transform faults must
the data which supports the latter interpretation. The inherit their offsets from some original transform
fanning of anomalies is supported by the data be- fault which formed when the system first started. In
tween the Mendocino and Surveyor fracture zones our case the new section of ridge could not possibly
and between the Sedna and Sila zones while between have inherited offsets from some primeval time.
the Surveyor and Sedna zones and north of the Sila Furthermore, the offset of the Aja fracture zone,
zone the data are not inconsistent with it. whatever it may be, cannot have had its origin with
The interpretation in fig. 3 (and in [32], fig. 5) is the Sedna and Sila zones at 21 time since its segment
important because it demonstrates that a complicated of ridge still did not exist at that time.
pattern of anomalies and fracture zones can be gener- The second obvious feature of fig. 1 is the relative-
ated from a continuously spreading system by intro- ly disordered appearance of the anomalies near the
ducing a rather minor change in the direction of mo- coast of North America. These disruptions are prob-
tion of one of its plates. This is particularly applicable ably related to the approach of the spreading ridge to
in geometries which involve a ridge-ridge-ridge triple the coast [34]. A different cause has been given for
point [33] as ours does (the magnetic bight was two of these disturbances. Namely, it has been sug-
created by one [5 ] ). This type of triple point has the gested that the change in orientation of the Juan de
peculiar property that it continually adds new length Fuca and Gorda segments of the ridge and the seg-
to its ridges. To demonstrate this, one can measure ment at the mouth of the Gulf of California may be
north from the Mendocino fracture zone and see that related to a large scale change in plate motions be-
the ridge segment between it and the magnetic bight tween the times of anomaly 5 (10 my) and anomaly 3
had 350 km added to it between anomalies 32 (4.5 my) [35,36,32]. However, the anomaly patterns
_(78 my) and 26 (64 my). In the traditional way of in these two regions can be explained equally well as
disturbances caused by proximity of ridge and con-
tinent, while the other nearcoast disruptions occur at
times which clearly cannot be related to changes in
plate motions. For example, between the Pioneer and
Murray fracture zones the disturbances began about
anomaly 10 time (32 my) while elsewhere nearby the
anomalies in that part of the sequence are quite
50* orderly.
Interpretation of the pattern of magnetic anom-
alies in fig. 1 leads to several very important conclu-
sions concerning the geologic history of North Amer-
ica. One is that there was a trench offshore along the
entire west coast of North America at least until
anomaly 10 time (32 my). This follows from the
45 ° assumption that the ridge creating the anomalies was
spreading symmetrically and thus was creating an
eastern plate as well. This eastern plate (called the
Farallon plate by McKenzie and Morgan [33] ) has
now almost entirely disappeared beneath North
America. The rate at which it was overridden must
40 ° have been greater than 5 cm/yr (the rate at which it
16o° 155° 15o° 145°
was being created) and has been estimated as 7 cm/yr
Fig. 3. Magnetic data pertaining to the change in orientation [33]. To decide the manner in which this rapid crus-
of anomalies and the creation of the Sedna and Sila fracture
zones. Magnetic profiles have the regional field removed and tal consumption occurred we look to present day
are plotted along the ship's track. In detailed survey areas models and find that wherever a plate is postulated to
positive anomalies are shaded. be overriding an oceanic plate rapidly, a trench exists
MAGNETIC LINEATIONS IN THE NORTHEAST PACIFIC 449

with associated earthquakes and andesitic volcanism 5A time (11 my). The ceasing of volcanism and tec-
[37, 31 ]. Thus we should expect to find geological tonism related to the trench should also be correlat-
evidence of the trench, especially volcanics, all along able to the collisions. These ideas have been outlined
the western margin of North America throughout the in simple form by McKenzie and Morgan [33]. Their
Paleogene. expression in the continental geology of North Amer-
Another conclusion is that segments of the ridge ica appears to be extremely complex and so far has
approached the trench and met it with resulting dire resisted straightforward explanation.
consequences for both features. We interpret the
near-coast breakup of anomalies as the manifestation
of the breakup of sections of the Farallon plate when Acknowledgements
the trench had consumed it almost up to the ridge so
that the remaining piece became too narrow and Dan McKenzie and John Mudie critically read this
weak to act rigidly. The spreading at the ridge was manuscript and offered many useful suggestions. This
just the expression of the movement of the pieces of work was supported by the Office of Naval Research
the broken plate away from the Pacific plate so its Contract Nonr 2216 (23).
trace also broke up and as it continued to spread it
formed broken anomalies.
In plate tectonics theories [ 2 9 - 3 1 ] a spreading
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