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The plate tectonic history of the Easter microplate has been reconstructed by “closing” the microplate in a series of steps using the Pacific-Nazca magnetic anomalies north and south of the microplate and the NUVEL 1 global plate motion model. After each step, the Easter microplate was rotated rigidly to match the Nazca and Pacific anomalies. Gaps and overlaps formed by this kinematic treatment indicate compressional and tensional deformation, respectively, and show that rigid plate motions are insufficient to explain the complete tectonic evolution. Analysis of the magnetic anomaly data was guided by contoured SeaMARC II, Sea Beam, and 3.5-kHz bathymetry data and a lineament map derived from SeaMARC II side scan and Sea Beam bathymetry data. The patterns of lineaments and bathymetric structures suggest that rotational deformation of the Nazca plate is the general mechanism that accommodates the space problems arising from transfer of the Nazca plate to the microplate and rapid rotation of the microplate against the Nazca plate. Similar but smaller amounts of deformation are predicted along the southern boundary of the microplate. Prior to the origin of the microplate, the East Pacific Rise (EPR) was offset in at least two places according to the older magnetic anomalies, yet there is no evidence of linear fracture zones within the sparse data set except for occasional small consistent changes in regional depth across these age offsets. The magnetic, bathymetry, and satellite altimetry data indicate that the microplate initially formed at (or perhaps southeast of) Easter Island near a left-lateral offset of the EPR sometime between anomaly 3 and 3'. The East Rift started propagating north from the present location of Easter Island at ∼4.5 Ma, which is ∼1.5 m.y. earlier than previously proposed. However, the magnetic data that support this interpretation are sparse and complicated by recent volcanic flows and associated rough bathymetry west of Easter Island. The geometry of the microplate changes very rapidly during its evolution. At the initial stages of development, the microplate resembles a large propagating rift system, suggesting that deformation may have been occurring throughout most of its interior up to about 2.47 Ma. At this time, the length to width of overlap ratio of the two rifts reaches a value of 3, the northward propagation slows down, the curved opening of the Southwest Rift becomes well established, and rigid rotation of the previously deformed transferred lithosphere probably starts to predominate. At this time, the offset distance between the two overlapped rifts starts to increase. Some time after 2.47 Ma and before 1 Ma, the East Rift starts propagating northwestward, probably in response to the microplate rotation, and continues up until present. Also during this time period, the East Rift breaks into a series of northward propagating rifts, each propagating into the microplate interior, thereby transferring lithosphere from the microplate to the Nazca plate and reducing the total growth rate of the microplate.

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, v. 96, issue B5, p. 7961-7993

©1991. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

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