Alignment between seafloor spreading directions and absolute plate motions through time

15 August 2019

The history of seafloor spreading in the ocean basins provides a detailed record of relative motions between Earth's tectonic plates since Pangea breakup. Determining how tectonic plates have moved relative to the Earth's deep interior is more challenging. Recent studies of contemporary plate motions have demonstrated links between relative plate motion and absolute plate motion (APM), and with seismic anisotropy in the upper mantle. Here we explore the link between spreading directions and APM since the Early Cretaceous. We find a significant alignment between APM and spreading directions at mid-ocean ridges; however, the degree of alignment is influenced by geodynamic setting, and is strongest for mid-Atlantic spreading ridges between plates that are not directly influenced by time-varying slab pull. In the Pacific, significant mismatches between spreading and APM direction may relate to a major plate-mantle reorganization. We conclude that spreading fabric can be used to improve models of APM. ©2016. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.