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Plate tectonic chain reaction revealed by noise in the Cretaceous quiet zone

Abstract

Global reorganizations of tectonic plates may be caused by a trigger such as a continental collision or a rising mantle plume. However, whether and how such a trigger propagates through a plate circuit remains unclear. Here we use a plate kinematic model to quantify relative motions between the African and Eurasian plates following a plume-induced plate motion change that triggered formation of a new subduction zone within the Neotethys Ocean at 105 Ma. We constrain the plate kinematic model by geomagnetic intensity variations recorded in Atlantic quiet zone crust that formed during the Cretaceous Normal Superchron (126–83 Ma), during which magnetic reversals were absent. We find that convergence rate changes between Africa and Eurasia are well explained by the initiation and arrest of the plume-induced subduction zone. Our plate kinematic model also reveals that the plate acceleration that followed upon subduction initiation changed the Africa–Eurasia convergence direction, which in turn was accommodated by subsequent subduction initiation about 85 Ma in the Alpine region that then triggered a cascade of regional tectonic events. This plate tectonic chain reaction illustrates how changes in plate motion, underpinned by mantle dynamics, may self-perpetuate through a plate circuit.

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Fig. 1: Plate boundary evolution of the Neotethys realm.
Fig. 2: Noise in the quiet zone.
Fig. 3: Africa–Eurasia relative plate motions since the Mesozoic.
Fig. 4: The chain of tectonic events in the Neotethys.

Data availability

Rotation and shape files for plate kinematic model made in GPlates reconstruction software53 were provided as supplementary information to previous papers22,26,49,65. GPlates files with reconstructions used to draft Figs. 1 and 4 are provided at https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/van_Hinsbergen_NatureGeo_2021_GPlates_zip/13516727. Marine magnetic data can be obtained at the NCEI GEODAS database: https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/geodas/trackline.html.

Code availability

GPlates plate reconstruction software53 used for developing our plate kinematic model is available from https://www.gplates.org/.

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Acknowledgements

D.G. did not receive any specific funding for this work. R.G. acknowledges ISF grant 1923/21. D.J.J.v.H. acknowledges NWO Vici grant 865.17.001. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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D.G., R.G. and D.J.J.v.H. contributed equally to the design of the research, the conduction of research and the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Derya Gürer.

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Nature Geoscience thanks Lucia Perez-Diaz and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editors: Tamara Goldin; Stefan Lachowycz.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Magnetic anomaly sea surface representative profiles used for the kinematic analysis of the Central Atlantic quiet zones.

The observed magnetic profiles are ordered from north (top) to south (bottom). Magnetic identification of Q1 and Q2 are shown in two profiles with red circles21. These anomalies were then traced outward into the other Central Atlantic magnetic profiles21 (gray circles), using both the magnetic anomalies backed by the vertical gradient of the gravity field (Fig. 1) that provide independent constraints on the crustal structure and seafloor fabric. Sources of data are the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and Ifremer databases.

Extended Data Fig. 2 North America–Africa finite rotation poles.

North America-Africa finite rotation poles and their 95% confidence ellipses.

Extended Data Fig. 3 North America–Eurasia finite rotation poles.

North America- Eurasia finite rotation poles and their 95% confidence ellipses.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Africa–Eurasia relative plate motions since the Mesozoic.

Velocities along-track (a,c) and convergence rates (b,d) for the trajectories shown in Fig. 3b (a-b and c-d are calculated using the western and eastern trajectory, respectively). The velocities were calculated using the geomagnetic polarity time scale of Ogg20. Dashed lines delineate the Mesozoic rates when using the Malinverno et al.66. timescale. Grey lines show previous estimates of convergence rates inferred from interpolating plate motion change across the entire Cretaceous Normal Superchron39. Blue shadings show the 1σ uncertainties that were calculated based on the uncertainties of the reconstructed points. Convergence rates are the margin-orthogonal components of the relative motions, calculated along northward (b) or N30°E (d) direction.

Extended Data Table 1 The source of the rotation parameters used in this study
Extended Data Table 2 Finite rotations and covariance matrices for the relative motion of Africa relative to North America (fixed)

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Gürer, D., Granot, R. & van Hinsbergen, D.J.J. Plate tectonic chain reaction revealed by noise in the Cretaceous quiet zone. Nat. Geosci. 15, 233–239 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00893-7

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