New geophysical parameters for understanding the evolution of the St. Elias Orogen, southern Alaska
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The St. Elias Orogen is the result of oblique collision and flat-slab subduction in the Gulf of Alaska between North America (NA) and the Yakutat microplate (YAK). Extensive glaciation and a complex tectonic environment make this region a unique case study in which to examine the details of terrane accretion and the possible coupled influence of climate and tectonic drivers on the structural and topographic evolution of an orogenic wedge. The dataset for this project includes: 3 multi-channel seismic reflection surveys (~4000 km total seismic reflection data) and a ~450 km-long wide-angle seismic refraction profile. Reflection seismic profiles across the offshore YAK-NA deformation front, provide constraints for quantifying Pleistocene deformation recorded in the glaciomarine Yakataga formation. Growth strata and kinematic fold analysis allow comparison of relative timing of fault activity, which reveals temporal and spatial shifting of deformation within the margin towards the onshore eastern corner of the orogen. This information is important not only for the development of regional tectonic models, but also for understanding how climatic shifts may have affected the evolution of margin architecture during Pleistocene glacial-interglacial periods. Joint tomographic inversion of coincident reflection and refraction profiles constrains YAK crustal velocity and thickness. The offshore YAK crust ranges in thickness from 15 to 35 km, considerably thicker than normal oceanic crust. The crustal thickness and velocity structure support an oceanic plateau origin for the YAK microplate. Crustal velocity and structure are continuous across the YAK shelf except for a regional dip of the top of YAK crust of ~3° to the west. Moho arrivals across the profile do not mimic the dipping trajectory of the basement, indicating that the offshore YAK crust is doorstop-shaped, thinning in the convergence direction. This geometry leads to the following implications for the YAK-NA collision: first, uplift and deformation have intensified through time as successively thicker, more buoyant YAK crust attempts to subduct; second, current topography, exhumation and deformation patterns are partially controlled by underlying crustal geometry of converging YAK crust.