Abstract

The narrow inner trench slope and the truncated igneous and metamorphic terrane along the west coast of Mexico between Cabo Corrientes and the Gulf of Tehuantepec indicate that part of the continental margin has in some way been removed during the process of subduction. However, a detailed marine geophysical survey of the inner trench slope near Acapulco indicates that this removal is not occurring now. South-southwest–trending magnetic anomalies produced by the Xolapa metamorphic complex extend seaward only 20 to 30 km. Oceanic magnetic anomalies that trend N50°W extend as much as 30 km landward of the trench. The boundary between these two magnetic patterns lies landward of the trench-slope break and beneath the upper-slope sediment pile. The nonmagnetic material forming the acoustic basement trenchward of the metamorphic rocks is interpreted to consist of late Miocene to Holocene deformed trench-floor turbidites. Deformation associated with subduction has reversed the gradients of several submarine canyons and tilted the seaward edge of the upper-slope sediment pile away from the trench. The morphology and structure of the inner trench slope is typical of accreting trench-arc systems, although the morphotectonic units in this system are smaller than usual.

Accretion since late Miocene time is suggested by the age of dredged slope sediments and by analysis of offshore magnetic anomalies, which indicate a change from right-lateral oblique to perpendicular subduction at that time. Removal of the continental margin probably occurred intermittently between Late Cretaceous and late Miocene time. Possible mechanisms include subduction of continental crust (tectonic erosion), left-lateral translation associated with the Caribbean–North American plate boundary, and right-lateral translation associated with oblique subduction between the Farallon or Cocos plates and the North American plate. Geological data favor right-lateral offset and suggest that some of the missing margin may be the slivers of subduction complex found along the west coast of Baja California and possibly even farther north.

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