Plate tectonic models for Indian Ocean "intraplate" deformation

Douglas A. Wiens*, Seth Stein, Charles Demets, Richard G. Gordon, Carol Stein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


The equatorial region of the conventionally defined Indo-Australian plate has long been recognized as containing a type example of intense "intraplate" deformation. We trace the development of tectonic models for the area to illustrate techniques for the analysis of such deformation. The identification of anomalous seismicity near the Ninetyeast and Chagos-Laccadive Ridges demonstrated the existence of the deformation. Focal mechanisms from recent and historic earthquakes showed strike-slip motion occurring along the Ninetyeast Ridge; seismic moment data allowed the rate to be estimated. Similar studies showed north-south tension in the Chagos Bank region and north-south compression in the region between the Ninetyeast and Chagos ridges. Global plate motion studies indicated non-closure of the Indian Ocean triple junction, suggesting the conventional plate geometry was inadequate for a rigid plate description of the area. Gravity and marine geophysical data indicated intense north-south compressional deformation south of the Bay of Bengal. These observations are reconciled by a plate motion model in which Australia and India lie on distinct plates divided by a boundary that intersects the Central Indian Ridge near the equator. In this model Arabia, usually considered a separate plate, has negligible motion relative to India. The resulting Euler vector for Australia relative to Indo-Arabia lies just east of the Central Indian Ridge, and predicts approximately 0.5-1.5 cm/yr compression in the Central Indian Basin and 1.5-2 cm/yr strike-slip motion along the northern Ninetyeast Ridge, consistent with the seismological and geophysical data. In contrast to conventional oceanic plate boundaries, the boundary deformation is distributed over a wide zone. This diffuse nature may reflect either the boundary's recent inception or slow rate of motion. Analysis of seismicity and deformation in the boundary zone should offer insights into the mechanics of its development and its implications for the evolution of plate boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-48
Number of pages12
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Dec 15 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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