Marine Science Faculty Publications

Pito Rift: How a Large-offset Rift Propagates

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SeaMARC II, side-scan, bathymetry, magnetics microplates, rift propagation, East Pacific Rise

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The Pito Rift area is the site of actively deforming oceanic lithosphere that has been primarily under extension for at least the past million years, based on kinematic reconstructions. The major morphologic features, Pito Deep and Pito Seamount, are aligned toward the Euler pole for relative motion between the Easter and Nazca plates. SeaMARC II side-scan and bathymetry data indicate that there are two general modes of faulting currently active in the Pito Rift area. One is associated with incipient rifting of old (∼3 Ma) Nazca lithosphere by large NW-SE normal faults, and the other is associated with a broad area of right-lateral transform shear between the Nazca and Easter plates. This transform shear is distributed over a broad region because of the northward growth of the East Rift and parallel tectonic rifting within the Pito Rift area. The majority of the Pito Rift area is composed of preexisting blocks of Nazca plate that are back-tilted away from Pito Deep and strike perpendicular to present and previous relative plate motions. This observation suggests that block-faulting and back-tilting are the primary mechanisms responsible for the distributed lithospheric extension, in agreement with gravity and magnetic analyses (Martinez et al., this issue). The only recent volcanic flows observed in side-scan data are from the Pito Seamount area and to the outside of the outer pseudofault of the East Rift. The significance of the young flows near the outer pseudofault is not understood. We interpret the flows extending northwest from the Pito Seamount as representing a newly formed seafloor spreading axis within the Pito Rift area. Gravity and magnetic analyses (Martinez et al., this issue) together with SeaMARC II bathymetry and side-scan data support this interpretation. Based on the tectonic evolution of the Easter microplate, we propose an evolutionary model for the formation of the Pito Rift area, where new ‘tectonic’ grabens form immediately west of the previous graben and with slightly more counterclockwise orientation. The duration and history of tectonic activity for each graben are not well constrained.

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Marine Geophysical Researches, v. 13, p. 287-309