On Leg 78A we drilled Sites 541 and 542 into the seaward edge of the Barbados Ridge complex, and Site 543 into the adjacent oceanic crust. The calcareous ooze, marls, and muds at Sites 541 and 542 are lithologically and paleontologically similar to the upper strata at Site 543 and are apparently offscraped from the down-going plate. A repetition of Miocene over Pliocene sediments at Site 541 documents major thrust or reverse faulting during offscraping. The hemipelagic to pelagic deposits offscraped in the Leg 78A area include no terrigenous sand beds, but they contain numerous Neogene ash layers derived from the Lesser Antilles Arc. Hence, this sequence is quite unlike the siliciclastic-dominated terranes on land that are inferred to be accretionary complexes.
The structural fabric of the offscraped deposits at Sites 541 and 542 is disharmonic, probably along a décollement, with an underlying acoustically layered sequence, suggesting selective underthrusting of the latter. The acoustically layered sequence correlates seismically with pelagic strata cored at Site 543 on the incoming oceanic plate. Cores recovered from the possible décollement surface at both Sites 541 and 542 show scaly foliation and stratal disruption. Approximately lithostatic fluid pressure measured in the possible décollement zone probably facilitates the underthrusting of the pelagic sediments beneath the offscraped deposits. In the incoming section, a transition from smectitic to radiolarian mud with associated increases in density and strength probably controls the structural break between offscraped and underthrust strata. In the Leg 78A area, the underthrust pelagic section can be traced seismically at least 30 km arcward of the deformation front beneath the Barbados Ridge complex.