Caribbean Slab Segmentation Beneath Northwest South America Revealed by 3-D Finite Frequency Teleseismic P-Wave Tomography

John Cornthwaite, Maximiliano J. Bezada, Wenpei Miao, Michael Schmitz, Germán A. Prieto, Viviana Dionicio, Fenglin Niu, Alan Levander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Caribbean plate subducts beneath northwest South America at a shallow angle due to a large igneous province that added up to 12 km of buoyant crust. The overriding plate lacks volcanism and exhibits Laramide-style uplifts over 500 km from the trench. Here, we illuminate the subduction structures through finite frequency teleseismic P-wave tomography and connect those structures to the Laramide-style deformation on the overriding plate. We use a new data set collected from the Caribbean-Mérida Andes seismic experiment comprised of 65 temporary broadband stations integrated with permanent stations from the Colombian and Venezuelan national networks. We identify three segments of subducting Caribbean plate with one segment completely detached from the surface. The timing of the detachment aligns with other regional events, including the uplift of the Mérida Andes, about 10 Ma. Slab buoyancy post-detachment likely resulted in recoupling with the overriding plate, reactivation of Jurassic-aged rift structures and subsequent uplift of the Mérida Andes. Mantle counterflow over the broken segment induced by rollback of the attached slab likely contributed to the uplift of the Mérida Andes. We conclude that the northern limit of subduction lies south of the Oca-Ancón fault, though the fault itself may be the surface expression of the boundary. The southern limit of subduction lies south of our study area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020GC009431
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EAR 1459047. The authors want to thank the field staff at FUNVISIS and Servicio Geològico Colombiano for their very capable operation of the CARMA seismic array. The US seismic instruments were provided by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) through the PASSCAL Instrument Center at New Mexico Tech. At PASSCAL we thank Pnina Miller and Lloyd Carothers for field assistance and Noel Barstow for coordinating the experiment logistics. Finally, the authors thank three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful and thorough comments that improved this manuscript. The facilities of the IRIS Consortium are supported by the National Science Foundation’s Seismological Facilities for the Advancement of Geoscience (SAGE) Award under Cooperative Support Agreement EAR‐1851048. Tomography color schemes were created using cbrewer (Charles, 2020 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • Caribbean
  • flat subduction
  • Laramide uplifts
  • Plate tear
  • South America
  • tomography


Dive into the research topics of 'Caribbean Slab Segmentation Beneath Northwest South America Revealed by 3-D Finite Frequency Teleseismic P-Wave Tomography'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this