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Dynamics of the abrupt change in Pacific Plate motion around 50 million years ago

Hu, Jiashun and Gurnis, Michael and Rudi, Johann and Stadler, Georg and Müller, R. Dietmar (2022) Dynamics of the abrupt change in Pacific Plate motion around 50 million years ago. Nature Geoscience, 15 (1). pp. 74-78. ISSN 1752-0894. doi:10.1038/s41561-021-00862-6.

[img] PDF (Supplementary Tables 1–3) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 1: Representative data showing construction of a paleo slab with pyGplates) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 2: Representative global thermal structure) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 3: Predicted plate motion with the traditional plate reconstruction that incorporates the Izanagi-Pacific Ridge subduction) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 4: Model with plume-head push) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 5: Comparison of the models with and without asthenosphere) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 6: Testing the effect of the nascent IBM slab at 50 Ma) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 7: Testing the effect of nascent IBM slab at 47 Ma) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 8: Computations of the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount hotspot tracks and plume motion) - Supplemental Material
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[img] Image (JPEG) (Extended Data Fig. 9: Geodynamically predicted horizontal velocity in the vicinity of Hawaiian plume as a function of depth for different models) - Supplemental Material
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A drastic change in plate tectonics and mantle convection occurred around 50 Ma as exemplified by the prominent Hawaiian–Emperor Bend. Both an abrupt Pacific Plate motion change and a change in mantle plume dynamics have been proposed to account for the Hawaiian–Emperor Bend, but debates surround the relative contribution of the two mechanisms. Here we build kinematic plate reconstructions and high-resolution global dynamic models to quantify the amount of Pacific Plate motion change. We find Izanagi Plate subduction, followed by demise of the Izanagi–Pacific Ridge and Izu–Bonin–Mariana subduction initiation alone, is incapable of causing a sudden change in plate motion, challenging the conventional hypothesis on the mechanisms of Pacific Plate motion change. Instead, Palaeocene slab pull from Kronotsky intraoceanic subduction in the northern Pacific exerts a northward pull on the Pacific Plate, while its Eocene demise leads to a sudden 30–35° change in plate motion, accounting for about half of the Hawaiian–Emperor Bend. We suggest the Pacific Plate motion change and hotspot drift due to plume dynamics could have contributed nearly equally to the formation of the Hawaiian–Emperor Bend. Such a scenario is consistent with available constraints from global plate circuits, palaeomagnetic data and geodynamic models.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription ReadCube access ItemGPlates ItemCitcomS
Hu, Jiashun0000-0003-1007-6837
Gurnis, Michael0000-0003-1704-597X
Rudi, Johann0000-0002-6563-9265
Stadler, Georg0000-0001-7762-6544
Müller, R. Dietmar0000-0002-3334-5764
Additional Information:© 2021 Nature Publishing Group. Received 21 November 2020; Accepted 29 October 2021; Published 23 December 2021. J.H. and M.G. were partially supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) through awards EAR-1645775 and EAR-2009935. J.R. was supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, under contract DE-AC02-06CH11357. G.S. was partially supported by NSF grants EAR-1646337 and DMS-1723211. Computations were carried out on the NSF-supported Stampede-2 and Frontera supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computer Center under allocations TG-EAR160027, TG-DPP130002 and FTA-SUB-CalTech. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. Data availability: The raw data for the paper have been deposited on Caltech Data (, including the digitized alternative plate reconstruction and the predicted plate motion. The authors declare that all other data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information files with their sources annotated in the text. Code availability: The plate kinematic tool GPlates and its python version can be accessed at The original version of CitcomS is available at The adaptive nonlinear Stokes solver (Rhea) used to predict plate motion is available upon request. Author Contributions: J.H. and M.G. designed the study. J.H. carried out the numerical experiments. J.R. and G.S. expanded the functionality of the adaptive nonlinear Stokes solver Rhea and provided expertise in scientific computing. R.D.M. helped with plate reconstruction. All authors participated in result interpretation and manuscript preparation. The authors declare no competing interests. Peer review information: Nature Geoscience thanks Claudio Faccenna and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editors: Stefan Lachowycz and Rebecca Neely in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Department of Energy (DOE)DE-AC02-06CH11357
Subject Keywords:Geodynamics; Geology; Tectonics
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220103-542844300
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Official Citation:Hu, J., Gurnis, M., Rudi, J. et al. Dynamics of the abrupt change in Pacific Plate motion around 50 million years ago. Nat. Geosci. 15, 74–78 (2022).
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:112651
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:03 Jan 2022 22:21
Last Modified:21 Jan 2022 23:11

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