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Finzel, E.S., 2010

Geodynamics of flat-slab subduction, sedimentary basin development, and hydrocarbon systems along the southern Alaska convergent plate margin

Bibliographic Reference

Finzel, E.S., 2010, Geodynamics of flat-slab subduction, sedimentary basin development, and hydrocarbon systems along the southern Alaska convergent plate margin: West Layfayette, Indiana, Purdue University, Ph.D. dissertation, 400 p., illust., maps.


Combining field-based geologic studies and numerical modeling provides a robust tool for evaluating the geodynamics of convergent margins. Southern Alaska is arguably the most tectonically active part of the convergent margin of western North America. This conceptual approach has been used to interpret the modern basin dynamics, as well as key stages in the Cenozoic development of this region, including spreading-ridge and flat-slab subduction. New macrofossil, palynological, and lithostratigraphic data for the Bear Lake Formation in the Bristol Bay retroarc basin allow us to construct the first chronostratigraphic framework for this formation, and indicate deposition during Middle and Late Miocene time in a regional transgressive estuarine depositional system. In the Cook Inlet forearc basin, new detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology, rare-earth-element geochemistry, and clast compositional data from middle Eocene-Pliocene strata demonstrate the importance of sediment sources located in the retroarc region and along strike within the basin. The Yakutat microplate has recently been reinterpreted to represent buoyant crust that is presently subducting at a shallow angle beneath southern Alaska. Integration of stratigraphic, geochronologic, and thermochronologic data indicate that in the flat-slab region, exhumation initiated ca. 43 Ma and migrated inboard, magmatism ceased ca. 32 Ma, and deposition in sedimentary basins ended ca. 23 Ma. Sedimentary basins positioned along the western and northern perimeter of the flat-slab region record enhanced subsidence and sediment delivery from the flat-slab region beginning in late Oligocene and middle Miocene time, respectively. The discrete contributions of unique driving forces for lithospheric deformation in western Canada and Alaska have not been quantified in detail, so their relative role in influencing deformation has remained unresolved. Using finite element models, we calculate a continuous strain rate and velocity field that provides evidence that a wide zone of diffuse deformation defines the present-day boundaries between the North America, Pacific, and Bering plates in Alaska and western Canada. In southern Alaska, boundary forces related to flat-slab subduction of the Yakutat microplate are the dominant driver for lithospheric deformation, whereas in central and northern Alaska and inboard parts of western Canada, buoyancy forces and basal tractions may be the dominant contributors.

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