Actively evolving microplate formation by oblique collision and sideways motion along strike-slip faults: An example from the northeastern Caribbean plate margin

Paul Mann, F. W. Taylor, R. Lawrence Edwards, Teh Lung Ku

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The pattern of folding, faulting, and late Quaternary coral-reef uplift rates in western and central Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) suggest that the elongate Gonave microplate, a 190,000-km2 area of the northeastern Caribbean plate, is in the process of shearing off the Caribbean plate and accreting to the North American plate. Late Cenozoic transpression between the southeastern Bahama Platform and the Caribbean plate in Hispaniola has inhibited the eastward motion of the northeastern corner of the plate. Transpression is manifested in western and central Hispaniola by the formation of regional scale folds that correspond to present-day, anticlinal topographic mountain chains continuous with offshore anticlinal ridges. Areas of most rapid Quaternary uplift determined from onland coral reefs 125 ka and younger, coincide with the axial traces of these folds. Offshore data suggest recent folding and faulting of the seafloor. Onshore reef data do not conclusively require late Quaternary folding, but demonstrate that tectonic uplift rates of the axial areas of the anticlines decrease from the Northwest Peninsula of Haiti (0.37 mm/yr) to to the central part of the coast of western Haiti (0.19 mm/yr) to the south-central part of western Haiti (0 mm/yr). Formation of the 1200-km-long Enriquillo-Plantain Garden-Walton fault zone as a 'bypass' strike-slip fault has isolated the southern edge of the Gonave microplate and is allowing continued, unimpeded eastward motion of a smaller Caribbean plate past the zone of late Neogene convergence and Quaternary uplift of coral reefs in Hispaniola. Offshore seismic reflection data from the Jamaica Passage, the marine strait separating Jamaica and Haiti, show that the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone forms a narrow but deep, active fault-bounded trough beneath the passage. The active fault is continuous with active faults mapped onshore in western Haiti and eastern Jamaica; the bathymetric deep is present because the Jamaica Passage fault segment represents a 50-km-wide, transtensional left-step of the fault trace between Haiti and Jamaica. Onshore satellite imagery and field observations suggest that the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault forms a continuous trace extending from central Hispaniola east of Lake Enriquillo, Dominican Republic, to the westernmost end of the southern peninsula of Haiti. The regional lineament corresponds to a recent fault scarp in Quaternary alluvium of the Clonard pull-apart basin in the central part of the southern peninsula of Haiti and suggests that at least this part of the lineament has undergone recent slip. Calmus (1983) has suggested a total offset of 30-50 km of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone in the southern peninsula of Haiti using the apparent offset of lithologic units. Seismic reflection data from Lake Enriquillo document recent deformation of Quaternary lake sediments where the lineament crosses the lake. Leveling of the crest of a late Holocene coral reef and associated algal tufa around Lake Enriquillo demonstrate late Holocene vertical movement and tilting in a 1500-m-wide zone parallel to the fault trend. Lateral offset is difficult to show in the Enriquillo Valley area because of rapid recent sedimentation into the valley. The pattern of inactive strike-slip faults and fold belts of Cenozoic age in Cuba and the Yucatan basin suggest that two elongate microplates were sheared off the proto-Caribbean plate and accreted to the North American plate by a similar process in Paleocene and Eocene times. Age of terminal deformation in western, central and eastern Cuba is consistent with southeastward younging and migration of arc collision. The similarity of the size and sequence of events in Cuba suggests that the process of oblique collision and sideways motion of the plate along a new strike-slip fault towards a free face may be an important process of microplate formation and interplate transfer in other areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-69
Number of pages69
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jun 15 1995


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