Construction of the Galápagos platform by large submarine volcanic terraces Academic Article uri icon


  • New multibeam bathymetric and side-scan sonar data from the southwestern edge of the Galápagos platform reveal the presence of ?60 large, stepped submarine terraces between depths of 800 m and 3500 m. These terraces are unique features, as none are known from any other archipelago that share this geomorphic form or size. The terraces slope seaward at <2° and are surrounded by escarpments that average ?300 m in height with average slopes of 24°. The stepped morphology, fine-scale features, and sinuous planform continuity of terrace edges indicate that each terrace results from a sequence of major submarine volcanic eruptions, similar in extent to young deep-water (>3000 m) lava flow fields west of Fernandina and Isabela Islands. The terraces are formed of thick sequences of lava flows that coalesce to form the foundation of the Galápagos platform, on which the subaerial central volcanoes are built. The compositions of basalts dredged from the submarine terraces indicate that most lavas are chemically similar to subaerial lavas erupted from Sierra Negra volcano on southern Isabela Island. There are no regular major element, trace element, or isotopic variations in the submarine lavas as a function of depth, relative stratigraphic position, or geographic location along the southwest margin of the platform. We hypothesize that magma supply at the western edge of the Galápagos hot spot, which is influenced by both plume and mid-ocean ridge magmatic processes, leads to episodic eruption of large lava flows. These large lava flows coalesce to form the archipelagic apron upon which the island volcanoes are built.

publication date

  • March 2008