Preservation of contrasting geothermal gradients across the Caribbean-North America plate boundary (Motagua Fault, Guatemala)

Thibaud Simon-Labric, Gilles Y. Brocard, Christian Teyssier, Peter A. Van Der Beek, Maria Giuditta Fellin, Peter W. Reiners, Christine Authemayou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Strike-slip plate boundaries juxtapose crustal blocks that may have different geodynamic origins and therefore different thermal structures. Thermo-kinematic modeling of this type of strike-slip plate boundary predicts an asymmetric signature in the low-temperature thermochronologic record across the fault. Age-elevation profiles of zircon (U-Th)/He ages across the Motagua Fault, a 500 km long segment of the transform boundary between the North American and Caribbean plates, document a sharp cooling age discontinuity across the fault. This discontinuity could be interpreted as a difference in denudation history on each side of the fault. However, a low-relief Miocene erosional surface extends across the fault; this surface has been uplifted and incised and provides a geomorphic argument against differential denudation across the fault. By integrating magmatic, volcanic, and heat flow data, age-elevation profiles, and thermo-kinematic modeling, we propose that large horizontal displacement along the Motagua Fault has offset a persistent geothermal asymmetry across the fault and explains both the age discontinuities and the age-elevation patterns. This study illustrates how thermochronology can be used to detect large strike-slip displacements and more generally opens new perspectives in understanding the impact of nonuniform thermal structures on thermochronologic results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)993-1010
Number of pages18
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 24 2015


  • Motagua fault
  • geothermal gradient
  • thermo-kinematic modeling
  • zircon (U-Th)/He dating


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