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ABSTRACT

An attempt to reconcile the observed main tectonic elements in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico within the major constraints of the Gulf of Mexico evolution leads to a revised opening model for the basin. The kinematic part of the presented model proposes that during the rifting stage the Yucatan block translated southeastward along major transform zones in the western and eastern Gulf, respectively. During the drifting stage, however, it rotated counterclockwise to accommodate the Gulf of Mexico oceanic crust. The dynamic part of the model proposes a heterogeneous thinning of the lithosphere under the Gulf of Mexico during its rifting stage. The asymmetrical distribution of different crustal types under the Gulf of Mexico basin and sharp differences in the sedimentary record between the northern and southern gulf are the main arguments used to invoke the lithospheric simple shear model in interpreting the evolution of the basin’s conjugate passive margins. In the framework of this model, we interpret the northern and southern gulf margins as proximal and distal margins, respectively.

The southeastern Gulf of Mexico is a deep seaway between Yucatan and Florida. In the framework of the Mesozoic evolution of the Gulf of Mexico basin, this area represents a major transform zone along which micro-plates (Yucatan block, Straits of Florida block) moved towards their present position, relative to North America, during the rifting and drifting stages of Gulf of Mexico opening. The southeastern Gulf of Mexico can be divided into three tectonically distinct domains, each reflecting different deformation styles and subsidence histories:

  • A) The western domain (Area I) represents the eastern edge of the Yucatan block. It is an area where no significant Jurassic synrift deformation and subsidence occurred. The accumulation of thick Cretaceous to Cenozoic carbonate rocks in this area, however, indicates significant postrift thermal subsidence.

  • B) The central domain (Area II), represented by the present-day deep seaway between Florida and Yucatan, is a deeply subsided, complex rifted area. Horst and graben features trend NW-SE, which are perpendicular to the major rift trends in the northern and southern Gulf of Mexico. The interpreted transform motions, along with the rift-trend direction define a transtensional deformation style for this area.

  • C) The eastern domain (Area III) represents the south-western edge of the Straits of Florida block. Similar to the Yucatan block, it lacks major synrift deformation and it is extensively covered by Cretaceous and younger platform carbonates, related to the postrift thermal subsidence.

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