63. Austermann, J., Z. Ben-Avraham, P. Bird, O. Heidbach, G. Schubert, & J. M. Stock [2011] Quantifying the forces needed for the rapid change of Pacific plate motion at 6 Ma, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 307, 289-297, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2011.04.043.

Abstract.  Studies have documented several rapid changes along the Pacific–North American, Pacific–Antarctic and Pacific–Australian plate boundaries in latest Miocene to earliest Pliocene time consistent with a sudden clockwise rotation of Pacific plate velocity relative to hotspots during this period. We test the hypothesis that this change in plate motion was initiated by cessation of subduction along the northern Melanesian arc due to the collision between the arc and the Ontong Java plateau. This hypothesis has long been formulated but never tested quantitatively. We use a geomechanical model of the lithosphere to determine the changes in plate boundary forces that are necessary to obtain the observed change in the Pacific plate motion. Our model results show that the change in motion can be explained by a clockwise rotation of the slab-related (basal-strength) component of plate driving force. The change of slab-related force from a post-6 Ma to a pre-6 Ma setting is perpendicular to the arc and points towards the Australian plate. The force per unit length is in the range of currently accepted values for subduction zones. Since there have been no other relevant changes at subduction zones along the Pacific plate boundary during the latest Miocene, we relate this change in slab-related force to the former southward-dipping Pacific plate slab along the northern Melanesian arc system which is now detached. Our model results suggest that rapid changes in plate motion can be triggered by slab detachment, with consequences for plate boundary processes even at great distances from the event.