We present a new hypothesis for the Jurassic plate-tectonic evolution of the Gulf of Mexico basin and discuss how this evolution influenced Jurassic salt tectonics. Four interpretations, some based on new data, constrain the hypothesis. First, the limit of normal oceanic crust coincides with a landward-dipping basement ramp near the seaward end of the salt basin, which has been mapped on seismic data. Second, the deep salt in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico can be separated into provinces on the basis of position with respect to this ramp. Third, paleodepths in the postsalt sequence indicate that salt filled the Gulf of Mexico salt basin to near sea level. Fourth, seismic data show that postsalt sediments in the central Louann and the Yucatan salt basins exhibit large magnitudes of Late Jurassic salt-detached extension not balanced by equivalent salt-detached shortening.
In our hypothesis, Callovian salt was deposited in preexisting crustal depressions on hyperextended continental and transitional crust. After salt deposition ended, rifting continued for another 7 to 12 m.y. before sea-floor spreading began. During this phase of postsalt crustal stretching, the salt and its overburden were extended by 100 to 250 km (62–155 mi), depending on location. Sea-floor spreading divided the northern Gulf of Mexico into two segments, separated by the northwest-trending Brazos transform. The eastern segment opened from east to west, leaving the Walker Ridge salient in the center of the basin as the final area to break apart. In some areas, salt flowed seaward onto new oceanic crust, first concordantly over the basement as a parautochthonous province, then climbing up over stratigraphically younger strata as an allochthonous province.