Transient rifting north of the Galápagos Triple Junction Academic Article uri icon


  • Seafloor bathymetry north of the Galapagos microplate in the Eastern Pacific Ocean contains evidence for a sequence of short-lived rifts cross-cutting abyssal hills adjacent to the East Pacific Rise. These secondary rifts are sub-parallel to the Incipient Rift that marks the current triple junction at 2 degrees 40’N and are nearly perpendicular to the direction of opening between the Cocos and Nazca plates. Secondary rifts likely initiated from the EPR by lithospheric cracking. Eventually, their activity stopped and they were carried away from the triple junction as part of the Cocos plate. We developed and analyzed numerical models of rift interaction to understand the evolution of rift configuration in this area. By varying the geometry and locations of rifts, we constrain the factors that have led to the location and orientation of secondary rifts at the northern Galapagos Triple junction. Interaction between secondary rifts and the Cocos-Nazca Rift results in similar to 10 degrees clockwise rotation of the secondary rift propagation direction, as observed. Furthermore, if a rift has become detached from the East Pacific Rise, a zone of reduced tension is present ahead of the rift tip, prohibiting its connection to the East Pacific Rise. Two zones of tensile stress enhancement develop along the East Pacific Rise next to the detached rift and control where new cracks are likely to form. Although the magnitude of tensile stress enhancement is controlled by the gap between the detached rift and the East Pacific Rise, whether the new rift forms north or south of the detached rift is controlled by position of the Cocos-Nazca Rift. Therefore, the sequence of ancient rifts found northeast of the current triple junction at 2 degrees 40’N represents the natural consequence of rift disconnection events and their position records the kinematic history of the gap between the East Pacific Rise and the Cocos-Nazca Rift. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • July 2011