Abstract

A deep seismic reflection transect of the conjugate margins of the Labrador Sea is described, which represents one of the few data sets of this kind. A characteristic reflectivity is ascribed to a 120 km wide ribbon of very thin crust that may be either thinned continental crust, which has perhaps been intruded, or oceanic crust, perhaps modified by the proximity of the continent. Most of the major changes in crustal thickness and in the subsidence and sedimentation patterns on the margins occur landward of these transitional zones, which are found on both margins. An interpretation of these regions as continental in origin is compatible with other seismic observations on the west Greenland margin, but does not match the magnetic anomaly interpretation, which requires the transitional crust to be oceanic in origin. Models that satisfy the gravity anomalies and the subsidence history have been used to assist in interpreting the seismic data. The subsidence models include the effects of decompression melting during lithospheric extension and rifting, and we predict the thickness of igneous crust produced. However, the gravity models suggest that a lower crustal layer may extend farther inland below the Labrador shelf than is predicted by magmatic underplating. The present seismic results, combined with the other geophysical data, are consistent with a pure shear model of lithospheric stretching, with faulting confined to the upper crust. Many of the problems raised by this data set are similar to those identified in comparing the nonvolcanic margin of Iberia with the conjugate Grand Banks margin in the North Atlantic. If the transition zone results from stretching the continental lithosphere, then a large component of the very thin crust there must consist of igneous material formed by melting. Under these conditions a sharp, vertical ocean–continent boundary would be unlikely.

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