An Abrupt Transition in the Mechanical Response of the Upper Crust to Transpression Along the Queen Charlotte Fault
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The Queen Charlotte Fault (QCF) is a major strike-slip fault that forms the boundary between the Pacific and North American plates from 51 degrees to 58 degrees N. Near 53.2 degrees N, the angle of oblique convergence predicted by the Mid-Ocean Ridge VELocity (MORVEL) interplate pole of rotation decreases from > 15 degrees in the south to < 15 degrees in the north. South of 53.2 degrees N, the convergent component of plate motion results in the formation of a 40 km wide terrace on the Pacific plate west of QCF and earthquakes with thrust mechanisms (including the 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake sequence) are observed. North of 53.2 degrees N, in the primary rupture zone of the M 8.1 strike-slip earthquake of 1949, the linear terrace disappears, and topography of the continental slope west of the QCF is characterized by a complex pattern of ridges and basins that trend obliquely to the primary trace of the QCF. Deformation within the Pacific plate appears to occur primarily through strike-slip faulting with a minor thrust component on secondary synthetic faults. The orientations of these secondary faults, as determined from seismic reflection and bathymetric data, are consistent with the reactivation of faults originally formed as ridge-parallel normal faults and as thrust faults formed parallel to the QCF south of the bend at 53.2 degrees N and subsequently translated to the north. We suggest that an oblique convergence angle of 15 degrees represents a critical threshold separating distinct crustal responses to transpression. This result is consistent with theoretical and analog strain models of transpressive plate boundaries. The sharpness of this transition along the QCF, in contrast to purely continental transform boundaries, may be facilitated by the relatively simple structure of oceanic crust and the presence of pre-existing, optimally oriented faults in the young Pacific plate.