Toward a self-consistent, high-resolution absolute plate motion model for the Pacific

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Abstract

The hot spot hypothesis postulates that linear volcanic trails form as lithospheric plates move relative to stationary or slowly moving plumes. Given geometry and ages from several trails, one can reconstruct absolute plate motions (APM) that provide valuable information about past and present tectonism, paleogeography, and volcanism. Most APM models have been designed by fitting small circles to coeval volcanic chain segments and determining stage rotation poles, opening angles, and time intervals. Unlike relative plate motion (RPM) models, such APM models suffer from oversimplicity, self-inconsistencies, inadequate fits to data, and lack of rigorous uncertainty estimates; in addition, they work only for fixed hot spots. Newer methods are now available that overcome many of these limitations. We present a technique that provides high-resolution APM models derived from stationary or moving hot spots (given prescribed paths). The simplest model assumes stationary hot spots, and an example of such a model is presented. Observations of geometry and chronology on the Pacific plate appear well explained by this type of model. Because it is a one-plate model, it does not discriminate between hot spot drift or true polar wander as explanations for inferred paleolatitudes from the Emperor chain. Whether there was significant relative motion within the hot spots under the Pacific plate during the last ∼70 m.y. is difficult to quantify, given the paucity and geological uncertainty of age determinations. Evidence in support of plume drift appears limited to the period before the 47 Ma Hawaii-Emperor Bend and, apart from the direct paleolatitude determinations, may have been somewhat exaggerated.

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