Pacific plate slab pull and intraplate deformation in the early Cenozoic
Abstract. Large tectonic plates are known to be susceptible to internal deformation, leading to a~range of phenomena including intraplate volcanism. However, the space and time dependence of intraplate deformation and its relationship with changing plate boundary configurations, subducting slab geometries, and absolute plate motion is poorly understood. We utilise a buoyancy-driven Stokes flow solver, BEM-Earth, to investigate the contribution of subducting slabs through time on Pacific plate motion and plate-scale deformation, and how this is linked to intraplate volcanism. We produce a series of geodynamic models from 62 to 42 Ma in which the plates are driven by the attached subducting slabs and mantle drag/suction forces. We compare our modelled intraplate deformation history with those types of intraplate volcanism that lack a clear age progression. Our models suggest that changes in Cenozoic subduction zone topology caused intraplate deformation to trigger volcanism along several linear seafloor structures, mostly by reactivation of existing seamount chains, but occasionally creating new volcanic chains on crust weakened by fracture zones and extinct ridges. Around 55 Ma, subduction of the Pacific-Izanagi ridge reconfigured the major tectonic forces acting on the plate by replacing ridge push with slab pull along its northwestern perimeter, causing lithospheric extension along pre-existing weaknesses. Large-scale deformation observed in the models coincides with the seamount chains of Hawaii, Louisville, Tokelau and Gilbert during our modelled time period of 62 to 42 Ma. We suggest that extensional stresses between 72 and 52 Ma are the likely cause of large parts of the formation of the Gilbert chain and that localised extension between 62 and 42 Ma could cause late-stage volcanism along the Musicians volcanic ridges. Our models demonstrate that early Cenozoic changes in Pacific plate driving forces only cause relatively minor changes in Pacific absolute plate motion directions, and cannot be responsible for the Hawaiian–Emperor bend (HEB), confirming previous interpretations that the 47 Ma HEB does not primarily reflect an absolute plate motion event.