Abstract

Geophysical surveys made by R/V Unitedgeo I (USGS–IDOE Cruise Leg 5), combined with earlier surveys and available geologic information, provide the basis for interpreting the structure of the continental margin of Liberia. This area lies at the junction of the Americas and Africa in published reconstructions of Gondwanaland prior to the opening of the North and South Atlantic in Jurassic and Cretaceous time, respectively.

Three fracture zones (St. Paul, Cape Palmas, and Grand Cess) are inferred in the area southeast of 9°30′ W. on the basis of magnetic and gravity data, which is supported by bathymetric and seismic reflection data. The three fracture zones appear to exist as separate lineaments near the African coast. Farther seaward, they may be part of the same transform fault crossing the Atlantic (St. Paul fracture zone). The magnetic anomalies associated with these fracture zones, which may have originated in Cretaceous time at the opening of the South Atlantic, are continuous with magnetic anomalies over crust of Eburnean age (∼2,000 m.y.) in southeast Liberia and its continental shelf. This suggests that Eburnean age structures may have been zones of weakness that were reactivated in Cretaceous time.

A positive gravity anomaly (∼50 mgal) along the coast and continental shelf of Liberia is attributed to deep crustal rocks that were uplifted and exposed in Pan-African time (∼550 m.y.). The land boundary of this anomaly coincides with a shear zone that marks the boundary between the Pan-African and the Liberian age province (∼2,700 m.y.); the shearing (in a thrust-fault sense) may be the result of compressive stress associated with the closing of a proto-Atlantic ocean. Liberian age magnetic anomalies in the area northwest of 9°30′ W. cross the Pan-African province (and the positive coastal gravity anomaly) and continue over the continental shelf and slope to about the 3,000-m bathymetric contour; the seaward limit of the anomalies is interpreted as representing the seaward limit of the old continental crust. This westward extension of the continental crust does not completely fill the gap in fit in various published reconstructions of Gondwanaland, and we suggest that the northern Florida block may have been located near the Liberian margin at one time.

Magnetic data indicate a thick section of sedimentary rock, possibly as great as 8 km, on the continental slope. Comparison of gravity data over magnetically inferred basins in the shelf, slope, and rise suggests that low-density sedimentary rocks constitute a greater proportion of the section in basins beneath the shelf and beneath the slope and rise northwest of 9°30' W. than beneath the slope and rise in the area of the fracture zones. The gravitational attraction that corresponds to a crust-mantle boundary dipping 45° to 60° can be computed to fit observed data – as might be expected at a rifted continental margin. A shallow high-density block beneath the coast and continental shelf is required to fit the coastal positive anomaly; this block is represented by exposures on land of granulite-grade metamorphic rock of the Pan-African province.

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