Tectonic History of the Arctic Basins: Partial Solutions and Unsolved Mysteries

  • Peter R. Vogt
  • Otis E. Avery


As yet inaccessible to deep-sea drilling and ship-borne surveying, the ice-locked Arctic Basin has been slow to give up details of crustal genesis and later modification. Extensive geophysical surveying both in the Arctic Basin and the North Atlantic confirms sea-floor spreading as the only probable mode of crustal genesis for the Eurasia Basin. Magnetic anomalies, although less clear than elsewhere, suggest spreading rates of approximately 0.5 to 1 cm/yr since 10 m.y.b.p.; the basin was born perhaps 60 m.y.b.p., with the separation of the Lomonosov Ridge from the Eurasian margin. The Eurasia Basin terminates rather abruptly, still 1000 to 2000 km from the plate rotation pole. It is unknown exactly how northern Siberia has accommodated up to 500 km crustal extension in post-Cretaceous times. Other mysteries include the abnormally low magnetic anomaly amplitudes and deep basement levels of the Eurasia Basin; the spreading axis is 0.5 to 1.0 km below the — 2.8 km average for the Mid-Oceanic Ridge. This topographic anomaly seems part of a much larger, regional pattern centered on Iceland, where the crustal elevation is over 3 km above the norm. Crustal, and probably also older basement elevations decrease monotonically northward and southward. Elevations of the adjacent continental margins appear to mirror this pattern. Current speculations link the regional topographic high to an asthenospheric bulge pumped from the lower mantle by a convection plume under Iceland. The abrupt beginning, or rejuvenation, of the Iceland plume about 70 to 60 m.y.b.p. and its subsequent fluctuations may have played a primary role in cracking and then forcing the plates apart.

Much less can be said about the Amerasia Basin beyond the Lomonosov Ridge. Although the Alpha-Mendeleev Cordillera resembles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in some ways, earlier speculations that the Alpha Ridge is a fossil-spreading axis, perhaps active until early Tertiary times, still remain untested for lack of detailed data. The Alpha Ridge exhibits magnetic and topographic peculiarities quite the opposite from those of the present Nansen (Gakkel) Ridge: With a —2 or — 2.5 km basement depth the Alpha-Mendeleev Cordillera is 2 to 3 km too shallow for a spreading center inactive since 40 m.y.b.p.; the magnetization (or layer thickness) is twice the typical value to explain magnetic anomalies. Limited seismic refraction work supports neither of two alternate hypotheses: No thick oceanic crustal layer, suggestive of an Icelandic-type aseismic ridge, nor continental velocities and thicknesses, suggestive of foundered continental crust, have been reported.

Least of all is known about the crust below the Canada Basin. Ancient ocean floor spreading, possibly of the “inter arc” type that occurs behind island arcs, appears the most plausible mechanism.


Oceanic Crust Magnetic Anomaly Arctic Basin Canada Basin Lomonosov Ridge 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1974

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter R. Vogt
    • 1
  • Otis E. Avery
    • 1
  1. 1.U.S. Naval Oceanographic OfficeUSA

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