Ridge-spotting: A new test for Pacific absolute plate motion models

Author List: Paul Wessel, Dietmar Müller.

Citation: Wessel, P., and Müller, R.D. (2016). Ridge-spotting: A new test for Pacific absolute plate motion models. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 17 (6): 2408–2420. doi:10.1002/2016GC006404

Abstract:

Relative plate motions provide high-resolution descriptions of motions of plates relative to other plates. Yet geodynamically, motions of plates relative to the mantle are required since such motions can be attributed to forces (e.g., slab pull, ridge push) acting upon the plates. Various reference frames have been proposed, such as the hotspot reference frame, to link plate motions to a mantle framework. Unfortunately, both accuracy and precision of absolute plate motion models lag behind those of relative plate motion models. Consequently, it is paramount to use relative plate motions in improving our understanding of absolute plate motions. A new technique called “ridge-spotting” combines absolute and relative plate motions and examines the viability of proposed absolute plate motion models. We test the method on six published Pacific absolute plate motions models, including fixed and moving hotspot models as well as a geodynamically-derived model. Ridge-spotting reconstructs the Pacific-Farallon and Pacific-Antarctica ridge systems over the last 80 Myr. All six absolute plate motion models predict large amounts of northward migration and monotonic clockwise rotation for the Pacific-Farallon ridge. A geodynamic implication of our ridge migration predictions is that the suggestion that the Pacific-Farallon ridge may have been pinned by a large mantle upwelling is not supported. Unexpected or erratic ridge behaviors may be tied to limitations in the models themselves or (for Indo-Atlantic models) discrepancies in the plate circuits used to project models into the Pacific realm. Ridge-spotting is promising and will be extended to include more plates and other ocean basins.

Wessel, P., and Müller, R.D. (2016). Ridge-spotting: A new test for Pacific absolute plate motion models. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 17 (6): 2408–2420. doi:10.1002/2016GC006404

Ridge-spotting: A new test for Pacific absolute plate motion models