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Structure and tectonics of the Panama-Nazca plate boundary

By
Graham K. Westbrook
Graham K. Westbrook
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Nicholas C. Hardy
Nicholas C. Hardy
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Roger P. Heath
Roger P. Heath
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Published:
January 01, 1995

The structure and the tectonic development of the southern Panama plate boundary have been derived from an interpretation of marine geophysical data, including GLORIA (Geological LOng Range Inclined Asdic) long-range side-scan sonar and seismic reflection profiles, most of which were acquired in 1989 from a cruise of the RRS Charles Darwin. The northern boundary of the Nazca plate runs within the continental margin of southern Panama. South of the Gulf of Panama this boundary, the Southern Panama fault zone, is predominantly left-lateral strike-slip and occupies an elongate sedimentary basin. South and southwest of the Azuero Peninsula the boundary becomes one of oblique subduction, with active formation of an accretionary complex. The eastern part of this accretionary complex slips around the bend in the overriding Panama block to the purely strike-slip portion of the plate boundary, where it ceases to accrete sediment. South of the Gulf of Panama, the fault zone is flanked on its southern side by a bathymetrie ridge, containing rocks of a high density, that was once a part of the Panamanian continental margin. The ridge has been displaced 140 km eastward by the motion between the Panama block and the Nazca plate. The eastern end of this ridge is being subducted beneath South America, and at the ridge crest, the deformation front of the Colombian accretionary complex meets the Southern Panama fault zone. The inactive trench, filled with sediment, that lies at the foot of the Southern Panama continental margin owes its existence, in the west, to the downward flexure of the Nazca plate beneath the overriding Panama block at the oblique subduction boundary, and in the east, where the lithosphere of the Nazca plate is “broken” along its transform boundary, to the flexural load of the displaced basement ridge. A continuation of the Southern Panama fault zone runs southeastward behind the Colombian accretionary complex, separating it from forearc basin sediments deposited on the “continental” basement of northernmost Colombia. Deformed mud diapirs indicate a component of left-lateral strike-slip motion on the fault zone. This pattern of tectonics around this northernmost corner of the Nazca plate has probably been active since the collision of Panama and South America about 3.5 Ma.

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GSA Special Papers

Geologic and Tectonic Development of the Caribbean Plate Boundary in Southern Central America

Paul Mann
Paul Mann
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Geological Society of America
Volume
295
ISBN print:
9780813722955
Publication date:
January 01, 1995

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