Transform Plate Boundaries

Transform Plate Boundaries

The concept of transform faulting.
When researchers began to explore the bathymetry of midocean ridges in detail, they discovered that mid-ocean ridges are not long, uninterrupted lines, but rather consist of short segments that appear to be offset laterally from each other (figure above a) by narrow belts of broken and irregular sea floor. These belts, or fracture zones, lie roughly at right angles to the ridge segments, intersect the ends of the segments, and extend beyond the ends of the segments. Originally, researchers incorrectly assumed that the entire length of each fracture zone was a fault, and that slip on a fracture zone had displaced segments of the mid-ocean ridge sideways, relative to each other. In other words, they imagined that a mid-ocean ridge initiated as a continuous, fence-like line that only later was broken up by faulting. But when information about the distribution of earthquakes along mid-ocean ridges became available, it was clear that this model could not be correct. Earthquakes, and therefore active fault slip, occur only on the segment of a fracture zone that lies between two ridge segments. The portions of fracture zones that extend beyond the edges of ridge segments, out into the abyssal plain, are not seismically active.
The distribution of movement along fracture zones remained a mystery until a Canadian researcher, J. Tuzo Wilson, began to think about fracture zones in the context of the sea-floor-spreading concept. Wilson proposed that fracture zones formed at the same time as the ridge axis itself, and thus the ridge consisted of separate segments to start with. These segments were linked (not offset) by fracture zones. With this idea in mind, he drew a sketch map showing two ridge-axis segments linked by a fracture zone, and he drew arrows to indicate the direction that ocean floor was moving, relative to the ridge axis, as a result of sea-floor-spreading (figure above b). Look at the arrows in figure above b. Clearly, the movement direction on the active portion of the fracture zone must be opposite to the movement direction that researchers originally thought occurred on the structure. Further, in Wilson’s model, slip occurs only along the segment of the fracture zone between the two ridge segments (figure above c). Plates on opposite sides of the inactive part of a fracture zone move together, as one plate. 
Wilson introduced the term transform boundary, or transform fault, for the actively slipping segment of a fracture zone between two ridge segments, and he pointed out that these are a third type of plate boundary. At a transform boundary, one plate slides sideways past another, but no new plate forms and no old plate is consumed. Transform boundaries are, therefore, defined by a vertical fault on which the slip direction parallels the Earth’s surface. The slip breaks up the crust and forms a set of steep fractures. 
So far we've discussed only transforms along mid-ocean ridges. Not all transforms link ridge segments. Some, such as the Alpine Fault of New Zealand, link trenches, while others link a trench to a ridge segment. Further, not all transform faults occur in oceanic lithosphere; a few cut across continental lithosphere. The San Andreas Fault, for example, which cuts across California, defines part of the plate boundary between the North American Plate and the Pacific  Plate the portion of California that lies to the west of the fault (including Los Angeles) is part of the Pacific Plate, while the portion that lies to the east of the fault is part of the North American Plate (figure above d, e).
Credits: Stephen Marshak (Essentials of Geology)
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