Interarc spreading and Cordilleran tectonics as alternates related to the age of subducted oceanic lithosphere
Old, cold oceanic lithosphere is denser and therefore gravitationally more unstable than younger, hotter oceanic lithosphere. Hence, whereas old lithosphere will sink under its own weight, subduction of young lithosphere may require an additional force. Interarc spreading occurs or occurred recently in the western Pacific, in the southern Atlantic, and possibly in the Mediterranean, where the subducted sea floor appears to be more than 50 m.y. old, and in many cases, is more than 100 m.y. old. In most of these regions, the ease with which the old dense lithosphere sinks may have contributed to a seaward migration of the trenches, which led to interarc spreading. Cordilleran tectonics, including high mountains and broad zones of deformation, are present on the margins of the eastern Pacific where the subducted oceanic lithosphere is younger than about 50 m.y. An extra force, which we presume to be necessary to cause subduction of the young lithosphere, may be responsible for the deformation and mountains just as an extra force seems necessary to drive continental collision in Asia. The extensive early Tertiary deformation across a broad zone of western North America may be related to the long-term, continuous subduction of young lithosphere of the Farallon and Kula plates.