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Journal Article

Regional Geophysics of the Caribbean and Northern South America: Implications for Tectonics


Barrera‐Lopez,  Carol V.
External Organizations;

Mooney,  Walter D.
External Organizations;


Kaban,  M. K.
1.3 Earth System Modelling, 1.0 Geodesy, Departments, GFZ Publication Database, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum;

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Barrera‐Lopez, C. V., Mooney, W. D., Kaban, M. K. (2022): Regional Geophysics of the Caribbean and Northern South America: Implications for Tectonics. - Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems (G3), 23, 5, e2021GC010112.

Cite as: https://gfzpublic.gfz-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_5011457
The Caribbean plate is an enclosed oceanic basin whose formation and evolution are controversial. In the most commonly accepted model, the Caribbean plate is mainly composed of the Caribbean Large Igneous Province (CLIP) and the buoyant characteristic of this oceanic plateau resisted subduction and allowed an eastward migration to its present position north of South America. In this study, we integrate a broad range of geophysical and geomorphological data to define structural elements and present-day tectonics of the Caribbean plate and the surrounding region. We present a Bouguer gravity anomaly map and a new crustal thickness map that documents large areas of normal-thickness oceanic crust within the Venezuela and Colombia basins of the Caribbean plate. Selected cross sections of seismicity and P-wave anomalies from a seismic tomographic model depict the present-day geometry of subducting oceanic plates within the Caribbean region. We observe that rather than resisting subduction, as expected for the thick crust of a buoyant large igneous province, the subduction of the Caribbean plate can be traced to a depth of 600 km beneath NW South America. This, together with the crustal thickness map, implies that a significant area of the Caribbean plate, including the subducted portion, is composed of normal-thickness oceanic crust. As proposed by the Pacific origin model, the Caribbean plate likely migrated eastward from the Pacific Ocean as an oceanic plate mostly with normal-thickness crust and limited portions of the crust thickened by hot spot volcanism (CLIP).