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A re-evaluation of the seismic structure across the active subduction zone of Western Canada Drew, Jeffrey John


The 1980 Vancouver Island Seismic Project (VISP) was conducted to investigate lithospheric structure associated with the underthrusting oceanic Juan de Fuca plate and the overriding continental America plate. The principal components of the survey were: (l) an onshore-offshore refraction line, which was approximately perpendicular to the continental margin (line 1), and (2) a refraction line which ran along the length of Vancouver Island approximately parallel with the continental margin (line IV). Lines I and IV were originally interpreted by Spence el a.1. (1985) and McMechan and Spence (1983), respectively. However since the original interpretations of these lines, deep multichannel seismic reflection data have been obtained on southern Vancouver Island as part of the 1984 LITHOPROBE project and off the west coast of the island during a marine survey in 1985. This study was undertaken to resolve differences between the subsurface structures proposed in the original interpretations of lines I and IV and those suggested by the more recently acquired deep reflection data. The vertical two-way traveltimes to prominent reflectors, observed in the onshore-offshore deep reflection data, were used as a constraint in constructing velocity models which are consistent with both the reflection and refraction data. The traveltimes and amplitudes observed in the VISP refraction data were modeled using a two-dimensional raytracing and asymptotic ray theory synthetic seismogram routine. The principal difference between the model originally interpreted for line I and the revised model involves the introduction of a twice repeated sequence of a low velocity zone (≈ 6.4 km/s) above a thicker high velocity zone (≈ 7.1 km/s) for the underplated region directly above the subducting Juan de Fuca plate in place of the single high velocity block underlain by a thick low velocity zone. The revised model for line IV is significantly different from the originally interpreted model. The two low-high velocity zones of line 1 are continued along the length of the island at depths between 10 and 35 km. Below this, the structure of the subducted plate is included to maintain consistency with the revised model developed for line 1. Additional features of the revised onshore-offshore model corresponding to line 1 include an oceanic lithosphere that dips approximately 3° beneath the continental slope, then 14° to 16° beneath the continental shelf and Vancouver Island, and an average velocity for the upper oceanic mantle of 8.22 km/s. Two separate two-dimensional models were needed to explain the data collected along line IV as a result of considerable azimuthal coverage due to a 30° change in profile direction. The revised models developed for line IV are consistent with the revised model developed for line 1. The velocity in the upper 10 km ranges from 5.5 km/s to approximately 6.7 km/s. Below 10 km the velocity structure is consistent with that interpreted for line 1 and shows some variations along strike of the subduction zone. Several possible interpretations can be made for the origin of the sequence of layers directly above the subducting plate beneath Vancouver Island. The two favored interpretations are: (1) a. three stage tectonic process consisting of: stage 1 — offscraping of sediment from the top of the subducting plate forms the uppermost low velocity layer in the sequence; stage 2 — an imbricated package of mafic rocks derived by continuous accretion from the top of the subducting oceanic crust forms the first high velocity layer; and stage 3 — stages 1 and 2 repeat themselves with stage 2 currently occurring; or (2) remnant, pieces of oceanic lithosphere left stranded above the current subducting plate during two previous episodes of subduction in which the subduction thrust jumped further westward isolating the remnant. The revised model along line IV indicates that this process of subduction underplating could have been a pervasive feature of this convergent margin.

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