Cocos Plate

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Cocos Plate
Type Minor
Approximate area2,900,000 km2 [1]
Features Cocos Island, Pacific Ocean
1Relative to the African Plate

The Cocos Plate is a young oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Central America, named for Cocos Island, which rides upon it. The Cocos Plate was created approximately 23 million years ago when the Farallon Plate broke into two pieces, which also created the Nazca Plate. The Cocos Plate also broke into two pieces, creating the small Rivera Plate. [2] The Cocos Plate is bounded by several different plates. To the northeast it is bounded by the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. To the west it is bounded by the Pacific Plate and to the south by the Nazca Plate.



The Cocos Plate was created by sea floor spreading along the East Pacific Rise and the Cocos Ridge, specifically in a complicated area geologists call the Cocos-Nazca spreading system. From the rise the plate is pushed eastward and pushed or dragged (perhaps both) under the less dense Caribbean Plate, in the process called subduction. The subducted leading edge heats up and adds its water to the mantle above it. In the mantle layer called the asthenosphere, mantle rock melts to make magma, trapping superheated water under great pressure. As a result, to the northeast of the subducting edge lies the continuous arc of volcanos —also known as the Central America Volcanic Arc— stretching from Costa Rica to Guatemala, and a belt of earthquakes that extends farther north, into Mexico.

The northern boundary of the Cocos Plate is the Middle America Trench. The eastern boundary is a transform fault, the Panama Fracture Zone. The southern boundary is a mid-oceanic ridge, the Galapagos Rise. [3] The western boundary is another mid-ocean ridge, the East Pacific Rise.

A hotspot under the Galapagos Islands lies along the Galapagos Rise. (see Galapagos hotspot and Galapagos Microplate)

The Rivera Plate north of the Cocos Plate is thought to have separated from the Cocos Plate 5–10 million years ago. The boundary between the two plates appears to lack a definite transform fault, yet they are regarded as distinct. After its separation from the Cocos Plate, the Rivera Plate started acting as an independent microplate. [4]

The devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake and the 2017 Chiapas earthquake were results of the subduction of the Cocos Plate beneath the North American Plate. The devastating 2001 El Salvador earthquakes were generated by the subduction of this plate beneath the Caribbean Plate.

Related Research Articles

Convergent boundary Region of active deformation between colliding lithospheric plates

A convergent boundary is an area on Earth where two or more lithospheric plates collide. One plate eventually slides beneath the other causing a process known as subduction. The subduction zone can be defined by a plane where many earthquakes occur, called the Benioff Zone. These collisions happen on scales of millions to tens of millions of years and can lead to volcanism, earthquakes, orogenesis, destruction of lithosphere, and deformation. Convergent boundaries occur between oceanic-oceanic lithosphere, oceanic-continental lithosphere, and continental-continental lithosphere. The geologic features related to convergent boundaries vary depending on crust types.

North American Plate Large tectonic plate including most of North America, Greenland and a bit of Siberia.

The North American Plate is a tectonic plate covering most of North America, Greenland, Cuba, the Bahamas, extreme northeastern Asia, and parts of Iceland and the Azores. With an area of 76,000,000 km2 (29,000,000 sq mi), it is the Earth's second largest tectonic plate, behind the Pacific Plate.

Farallon Plate An ancient oceanic plate that has mostly subducted under the west coast of the North American Plate

The Farallon Plate was an ancient oceanic plate that began subducting under the west coast of the North American Plate—then located in modern Utah—as Pangaea broke apart during the Jurassic period. It is named for the Farallon Islands, which are located just west of San Francisco, California.

Nazca Plate Oceanic tectonic plate in the eastern Pacific Ocean basin

The Nazca Plate, or Nasca Plate, named after the Nazca region of southern Peru, is an oceanic tectonic plate in the eastern Pacific Ocean basin off the west coast of South America. The ongoing subduction, along the Peru–Chile Trench, of the Nazca Plate under the South American Plate is largely responsible for the Andean orogeny. The Nazca Plate is bounded on the west by the Pacific Plate and to the south by the Antarctic Plate through the East Pacific Rise and the Chile Rise respectively. The movement of the Nazca Plate over several hotspots has created some volcanic islands as well as east-west running seamount chains that subduct under South America. Nazca is a relatively young plate both in terms of the age of its rocks and its existence as an independent plate having been formed from the break-up of the Farallon Plate about 23 million years ago. The oldest rocks of the plate are about 50 million years old.

Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt arc of volcanic mountains across central-southern Mexico

The Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, also known as the Transvolcanic Belt and locally as the Sierra Nevada, is a volcanic belt that covers central-southern Mexico. Several of its highest peaks have snow all year long, and during clear weather, they are visible to a large percentage of those who live on the many high plateaus from which these volcanoes rise.

Caribbean Plate A mostly oceanic tectonic plate including part of Central America and the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean Plate is a mostly oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of South America.

Middle America Trench A subduction zone in the eastern Pacific off the southwestern coast of Middle America

The Middle America Trench is a major subduction zone, an oceanic trench in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the southwestern coast of Middle America, stretching from central Mexico to Costa Rica. The trench is 1,700 miles (2,750 km) long and is 21,880 feet at its deepest point. The trench is the boundary between the Rivera, Cocos, and Nazca plates on one side and the North American and Caribbean plates on the other. It is the 18th-deepest trench in the world. Many large earthquakes have occurred in the area of the Middle America Trench.

Carnegie Ridge An aseismic ridge on the Nazca Plate that is being subducted beneath the South American Plate

The Carnegie Ridge is an aseismic ridge on the Nazca Plate that is being subducted beneath the South American Plate. The ridge is thought to be a result of the passage of the Nazca Plate over the Galapagos hotspot. It is named for the research vessel Carnegie, which discovered it in 1929.

Galápagos Microplate A very small tectonic plate at the Galapagos Triple Junction

The Galapagos Microplate (GMP) is a geological feature of the oceanic crust located at 1°50' N, offshore of the west coast of Colombia. The GMP is collocated with the Galapagos Triple Junction, which is an atypical ridge-ridge-ridge triple junction. At the Galapagos Triple Junction, the Pacific Plate, Cocos Plate, and Nazca Plate meet incompletely, forming two counter-rotating microplates at the junction of the Cocos-Nazca, Pacific-Cocos, and Pacific-Nazca spreading ridges.

Rivera Plate Small tectonic plate off the west coast of Mexico

The Rivera Plate is a small tectonic plate located off the west coast of Mexico, just south of the Baja California Peninsula. It is bounded on the northwest by the East Pacific Rise, on the southwest by the Rivera Transform Fault, on the southeast by a deformation zone, and on the northeast by the Middle America Trench and another deformation zone.

Galápagos hotspot

The Galápagos hotspot is a volcanic hotspot in the East Pacific Ocean responsible for the creation of the Galapagos Islands as well as three major aseismic ridge systems, Carnegie, Cocos and Malpelo which are on two tectonic plates. The hotspot is located near the Equator on the Nazca Plate not far from the divergent plate boundary with the Cocos Plate. The tectonic setting of the hotspot is complicated by the Galapagos Triple Junction of the Nazca and Cocos plates with the Pacific Plate. The movement of the plates over the hotspot is determined not solely by the spreading along the ridge but also by the relative motion between the Pacific Plate and the Cocos and Nazca Plates.

Pacific-Farallon Ridge A spreading ridge during the late Cretaceous that separated the Pacific Plate to the west and the Farallon Plate to the east

The Pacific-Farallon Ridge was a spreading ridge during the late Cretaceous that extended 10,000 km in length and separated the Pacific Plate to the west and the Farallon Plate to the east. It ran south from the Pacific-Farallon-Kula triple junction at 51°N to the Pacific-Farallon-Antarctic triple junction at 43°S. As the Farallon Plate subducted obliquely under the North American Plate, the Pacific-Farallon Ridge approached and eventually made contact with the North American Plate about 30 million years ago. On average, this ridge had an equatorial spreading rate of 13.5 cm per year until its eventual collision with the North American Plate. In present day, the Pacific-Farallon Ridge no longer formally exists since the Farallon Plate has been broken up or subducted beneath the North American Plate, and the ridge has segmented, having been mostly subducted as well. The most notable remnant of the Pacific-Farallon Ridge is the 4000 km Pacific-Nazca segment of the East Pacific Rise.

This is a list of articles related to plate tectonics and tectonic plates.

Geology of the Pacific Ocean overview about the geology of the Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean evolved in the Mesozoic from the Panthalassic Ocean, which had formed when Rodinia rifted apart around 750 Ma. The first ocean floor which is part of the current Pacific Plate began 160 Ma to the west of the central Pacific and subsequently developed into the largest oceanic plate on Earth.

Flat slab subduction is characterized by a low subduction angle beyond the seismogenic layer and a resumption of normal subduction far from the trench. A slab refers to the subducting lower plate. Although, some would characterize flat slab subduction as any shallowly dipping lower plate as in western Mexico. Flat slab subduction is associated with the pinching out of the asthenosphere, an inland migration of arc magmatism, and an eventual cessation of arc magmatism. The coupling of the flat slab to the upper plate is thought to change the style of deformation occurring on the upper plate's surface and form basement-cored uplifts like the Rocky Mountains. The flat slab also may hydrate the lower continental lithosphere and be involved in the formation of economically important ore deposits. During the subduction, a flat slab itself may be deformed, or buckling, causing sedimentary hiatus in marine sediments on the slab. The failure of a flat slab is associated with ignimbritic volcanism and the reverse migration of arc volcanism. Multiple working hypotheses about the cause of flat slabs are subduction of thick, buoyant oceanic crust (15–20 km) and trench rollback accompanying a rapidly overriding upper plate and enhanced trench suction. The west coast of South America has two of the largest flat slab subduction zones. Flat slab subduction is occurring at 10% of subduction zones.

Coiba Plate A small tectonic plate off the coast south of Panama and northwestern Colombia

The Coiba Plate is a small tectonic plate located off the coasts south of Panama and northwestern Colombia. It is named after Coiba, the largest island of Central America, just north of the plate offshore southern Panama. It is bounded on the west by the Cocos Plate, on the south by the Malpelo Plate, on the east by the North Andes Plate, and on the north by the Panama Plate. This microplate was previously assumed to be part of the Nazca Plate, forming the northeastern tongue of the Nazca Plate together with the Malpelo Plate. Bordering the Coiba Plate on the east are the north-south striking Bahía Solano Fault and east of that, the Serranía de Baudó, an isolated mountain chain in northwestern Chocó, Colombia.

The geology of Panama includes the complex tectonic interplay between the Pacific, Cocos and Nazca plates, the Caribbean Plate and the Panama Microplate.

Ridge push or sliding plate force is a proposed driving force for plate motion in plate tectonics that occurs at mid-ocean ridges as the result of the rigid lithosphere sliding down the hot, raised asthenosphere below mid-ocean ridges. Although it is called ridge push, the term is somewhat misleading; it is actually a body force that acts throughout an ocean plate, not just at the ridge, as a result of gravitational pull. The name comes from earlier models of plate tectonics in which ridge push was primarily ascribed to upwelling magma at mid-ocean ridges pushing or wedging the plates apart.


  1. "Here are the Sizes of Tectonic or Lithospheric Plates".
  2. Manea, V.C.; Manea, M.; Ferarri, L. (2013). "A geodynamical perspective on the subduction of Cocos and Rivera plates beneath Mexico and Central America" (PDF). Tectonophysics. 609: 56–81. doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2012.12.039 . Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  3. Paul J. Grim, "Connection of the Panama fracture zone with the Galapagos rift zone, eastern tropical Pacific".
  4. Manea, V.C.; Manea, M.; Ferarri, L. (2013). "A geodynamical perspective on the subduction of Cocos and Rivera plates beneath Mexico and Central America" (PDF). Tectonophysics. 609: 56–81. doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2012.12.039 . Retrieved 24 April 2017.