Upper mantle structure beneath the Caribbean-South American plate boundary from surface wave tomography

TitleUpper mantle structure beneath the Caribbean-South American plate boundary from surface wave tomography
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsMiller, MS, Levander, A, Niu, F, Li, A
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Keywordsplate boundary, surface wave tomography, upper mantle structure

We have measured shear wave velocity structure of the crust and upper mantle of the Caribbean-South American boundary region by analysis of fundamental mode Rayleigh waves in the 20- to 100-s period band recorded at the BOLIVAR/GEODINOS stations from 2003 to 2005. The model shows lateral variations that primarily correspond to tectonic provinces and boundaries. A clear linear velocity change parallels the plate bounding dextral strike-slip fault system along the northern coast of Venezuela, illustrating the differences between the South American continental lithosphere, the Venezuelan archipelago, and the Caribbean oceanic lithosphere. At depths up to 120 km beneath the Venezuelan Andes and the Maracaibo block, there is evidence of underthrusting of the Caribbean plate, but there is no other evidence of subduction of the Caribbean plate beneath the South American plate. In eastern Venezuela, linear crustal low velocities are associated with the fold and thrust belts whereas as higher crustal velocities are imaged in the Guayana shield lithosphere. The subducting oceanic part of the South American plate is imaged beneath the Antilles arc. The surface wave images combined with seismicity data suggest shear tearing of the oceanic lithosphere away from the buoyant continental South American plate offshore of northeastern Venezuela. The continental lithosphere south of the slab tear is bent down toward the plate boundary in response to the propagating tear in the lithosphere. We interpret a nearly vertical low-velocity “column” west of the tear centered beneath the Cariaco Basin, with three-dimensional asthenospheric flow around the southern edge of the subducting oceanic lithosphere, with the asthenosphere escaping from beneath continental South America and rising into the plate boundary zone. The complex plate boundary structure is best examined in three dimensions. We discuss the new surface wave tomographic inversion in the context of results from other researchers including local seismicity, teleseismic shear wave splits, and interpretations from active source profiling.


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