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ABSTRACT: Development of Transtensional and Transpressive Plate Boundaries Due to Noncircular (Cycloid) Relative Plate Motion

Vincent S. Cronin

The trace of a transform fault commonly is assumed to be circular and concentric with the finite relative motion of the plates adjacent to the fault. These assumptions have led to controversy as the transform fault label has been applied to the San Andreas fault in California because the San Andreas fault is neither circular nor concentric with the motion of the Pacific plate relative to the North American plate.

The assumption of circular relative plate motion over a finite time interval is not generally valid. When finite relative plate motion is not circular, the length and orientation of a transform fault must change through time. The length and orientation of ridge-ridge transform faults in oceanic crust evolve through the migration, propagation, and abandonment of ridge segments. Transform faults that bound continental crust evolve differently than do transform faults along mid-ocean ridges because continental transform faults typically do not have ridges at both ends and because of the rheological differences between oceanic and continental crust. Along continent-continent transform faults in which the initial displacement is entirely strike slip, later displacements will be progressive y more divergent or convergent (i.e., transtensive or transpressive). Transtension can result in the development of deep basins with high heat flow. Transpression can result in folding, reverse faulting, and decoupling of the crust from its lower crustal or mantle lithosphere in the region adjacent to the transform fault. Regardless of whether the transform boundary becomes transtensional or transpressional, the boundary evolves from a discrete transform fault to a broader, structurally complex accommodation zone (sensu lato).

Kinematic modeling of the last approximately 6 m.y. along the San Andreas fault, using the cycloid relative motion model, indicates the development of transpression in central and northern California and transtension in southern California from a model fault that was initially strike slip. The kinematics suggested by the cycloid model provide valuable insights regarding the evolution of continental transform boundaries.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91003©1990 AAPG Annual Convention, San Francisco, California, June 3-6, 1990