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Plate Tectonic Constraints on Flat Subduction and Paleomagnetic Constraints on Rifting


Skinner, Steven Michael (2013) Plate Tectonic Constraints on Flat Subduction and Paleomagnetic Constraints on Rifting. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/G94S-Z109.


Plate tectonics shapes our dynamic planet through the creation and destruction of lithosphere. This work focuses on increasing our understanding of the processes at convergent and divergent boundaries through geologic and geophysical observations at modern plate boundaries. Recent work had shown that the subducting slab in central Mexico is most likely the flattest on Earth, yet there was no consensus about what caused it to originate. The first chapter of this thesis sets out to systematically test all previously proposed mechanisms for slab flattening on the Mexican case. What we have discovered is that there is only one model for which we can find no contradictory evidence. The lack of applicability of the standard mechanisms used to explain flat subduction in the Mexican example led us to question their applications globally. The second chapter expands the search for a cause of flat subduction, in both space and time. We focus on the historical record of flat slabs in South America and look for a correlation between the shallowing and steepening of slab segments with relation to the inferred thickness of the subducting oceanic crust. Using plate reconstructions and the assumption that a crustal anomaly formed on a spreading ridge will produce two conjugate features, we recreate the history of subduction along the South American margin and find that there is no correlation between the subduction of a bathymetric highs and shallow subduction. These studies have proven that a subducting crustal anomaly is neither a sufficient or necessary condition of flat slab subduction. The final chapter in this thesis looks at the divergent plate boundary in the Gulf of California. Through geologic reconnaissance mapping and an intensive paleomagnetic sampling campaign, we try to constrain the location and orientation of a widespread volcanic marker unit, the Tuff of San Felipe. Although the resolution of the applied magnetic susceptibility technique proved inadequate to contain the direction of the pyroclastic flow with high precision, we have been able to detect the tectonic rotation of coherent blocks as well as rotation within blocks.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:flat subduction, paleomagnetics, rifting
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Clayton, Robert W. (advisor)
  • Stock, Joann M. (advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Avouac, Jean-Philippe (chair)
  • Clayton, Robert W.
  • Kirschvink, Joseph L.
  • Saleeby, Jason B.
  • Stock, Joann M.
Defense Date:27 May 2013
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06062013-151342444
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7854
Deposited By: Steven Skinner
Deposited On:07 Jun 2013 16:39
Last Modified:12 Nov 2021 19:25

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