Plate motion controls on back‐arc spreading

Jeremy B. Fein*, Donna M. Jurdy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The motions of the subducting and the overriding plates influence the spatial and temporal distribution of back‐arc spreading. Cenozoic plate motions in hot spot‐fixed and no‐net‐rotation reference frames were studied with attention to correlations between changes in motion and episodes of back‐arc spreading in the Western Pacific. The results suggest that major back‐arc opening occurs when both the overriding plate retreats from the trench in an absolute sense and the subducting plate undergoes a significant speed‐up. Neither phenomenon alone is sufficient to initiate spreading. Three major plate velocity increases can be identified in the Cenozoic : 1) the Pacific plate 5‐9 Ma; 2) the Indian plate at 27 Ma; and 3) the Pacific plate at 43 Ma, due to its shift from northerly to more westerly motion. At the present time, the Indian and Philippine are the only overriding plates that are retreating from their Pacific trenches and back‐arc spreading occurs only on these two retreating plates. Although the Indian plate has been retreating for at least 25 Ma, back‐arc spreading began only following the Pacific plate speed‐up 5‐9 Ma. Earlier, during the Indian plate speed‐up, no overriding plates were retreating strongly and no back‐arc spreading episodes are preserved from this time. For the earliest Pacific plate shift at 43 Ma, the Eurasian plate was not advancing, thus creating the only favorable plate kinematic conditions in the Cenozoic for back‐arc basin formation in this region. It is unclear whether extension in the Japan Sea is a result of these conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)456-459
Number of pages4
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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