On the enigmatic birth of the Pacific Plate within the Panthalassa Ocean

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Science Advances  27 Jul 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 7, e1600022
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600022


The oceanic Pacific Plate started forming in Early Jurassic time within the vast Panthalassa Ocean that surrounded the supercontinent Pangea, and contains the oldest lithosphere that can directly constrain the geodynamic history of the circum-Pangean Earth. We show that the geometry of the oldest marine magnetic anomalies of the Pacific Plate attests to a unique plate kinematic event that sparked the plate’s birth at virtually a point location, surrounded by the Izanagi, Farallon, and Phoenix Plates. We reconstruct the unstable triple junction that caused the plate reorganization, which led to the birth of the Pacific Plate, and present a model of the plate tectonic configuration that preconditioned this event. We show that a stable but migrating triple junction involving the gradual cessation of intraoceanic Panthalassa subduction culminated in the formation of an unstable transform-transform-transform triple junction. The consequent plate boundary reorganization resulted in the formation of a stable triangular three-ridge system from which the nascent Pacific Plate expanded. We link the birth of the Pacific Plate to the regional termination of intra-Panthalassa subduction. Remnants thereof have been identified in the deep lower mantle of which the locations may provide paleolongitudinal control on the absolute location of the early Pacific Plate. Our results constitute an essential step in unraveling the plate tectonic evolution of “Thalassa Incognita” that comprises the comprehensive Panthalassa Ocean surrounding Pangea.

  • Panthalassa Ocean
  • Pacific Plate
  • plate reconstruction
  • tomography
  • absolute plate motion

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