Allen CV
Seismo Lab
Earth & Planetary
UC Berkeley

The Fate of the Juan de Fuca Plate: Implications for a Yellowstone Plume Head

Mei Xue and Richard M. Allen
University of California, Berkeley

Earth Planet. Sci. lett., 264, p266-276, 2007.

Download a preprint: XueAllenEPSL2007.pdf (1.8 Mb)

Beneath the Pacific Northwest the Juan de Fuca plate, a remnant of the Farallon plate, continues subducting beneath the North American continent. To the east of the Cascadia subduction zone lies the Yellowstone hotspot track. The origins of this track can be traced back to the voluminous basaltic outpourings in the Columbia Plateau around 17 Ma. If these basalts are the result of a large melting anomaly rising through the mantle to the base of the North America continent, such as a mantle plume head, the anomaly would need to punch through the subducting Juan de Fuca slab. Here, we use teleseismic body wave travel time tomography to investigate the fate of the subducted slab and its possible interaction with a plume head. Our dataset is derived from the Oregon Array for Teleseismic Study (OATS) deployment in Oregon and all other available seismic data in this region. We image the subducted Juan de Fuca plate in the mantle east of the Cascades beneath Oregon, where the slab has not been imaged before, to a depth of 400 km but no deeper. The slab dips ~50 deg E and has a thickness of ~75 km. Immediately beneath the slab, we image a low velocity layer with a similar geometry to the slab and extending down to at least ~575 km depth in the VS model. The total length of the high velocity slab is ~660 km, about 180 km longer than the estimated length of slab subducted since 17 Ma. Assuming similar slab geometry to today, this 180 km length of slab would reach ~60 km depth, comparable to the thickness of continental lithosphere. We propose that the absence of the slab below 400 km today is due to the arrival of the Yellowstone plume head ~17 Ma, which destroyed the Juan de Fuca slab at depths greater than the thickness of the continental lithosphere. Given this scenario, the low velocity anomaly beneath the slab is likely the remnant plume head material which has been pulled down by traction with the subducting plate. The amplitude of the observed low velocity anomaly is comparable with that expected for plume head material 100-300 deg C hotter than the surrounding asthenosphere.

© Richard M Allen