Abstract

Rifts form in many different tectonic environments where the lithosphere is put into extension. We outline the distribution, orientation, and relative ages of 16 Cenozoic rifts along the northern edge of the Caribbean plate and suggest that these structures formed successively by localized extension as the Caribbean plate moved eastward past a continental promontory of North America.

Evidence leading to this conclusion includes (1) recognition that the rifts become progressively younger westward; (2) a two-phase subsidence history in a rift exposed by upthrusting in Jamaica; (3) the absence of rifts east of Jamaica; and (4) the observation that removal of 1400 km of strike-slip displacement on the Cayman Trough fault system places the Paleogene rifts of Jamaica in an active area of extension south of Yucatan where the rifts of Honduras and Guatemala are forming today.

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