This paper discusses the geological and geophysical interpretation of rift structures in the region extending from the Rio Grande Rise, in the Southeastern Brazilian margin, towards the Cabo Frio High, which separates the Campos and Santos basins.
We have analysed potential field data (gravity and magnetic) from the Argentine to the Brazilian oceanic basins and extending over the Pelotas, Santos and Campos basins. The Rio Grande Rise shows a relatively negative Bouguer anomaly in an area that corresponds to a major positive bathymetric feature between the Argentine and Brazil basins. North–south propagators related to the early spreading centres of the Atlantic Ocean are observed from Argentina towards the southern Santos Basin, which is characterized by an elevated basement topography relative to the Pelotas Basin.
The region adjacent to the Florianópolis Fracture Zone between the Santos and Pelotas basins is also characterized by an elevated basement region aligned in an east–west direction, and locally it is marked by rift structures aligned along a NW–SE direction, forming a lineament or shear zone (Cruzeiro do Sul lineament) that extends from the Cabo Frio High towards the Rio Grande Rise, thus involving both continental and oceanic crusts.
The Rio Grande Rise is associated with the east–west-trending fracture zones, which are characterized by several aligned magnetic anomalies in the southern Santos Basin. The Rio Grande Fracture Zone continues landward as the São Paulo Ridge, and extends towards the platform as the Florianópolis High. Oceanic propagators are identified from Argentina towards the Pelotas and Santos basins, and locally we observe rupturing of the salt layer by igneous intrusions or possibly by mantle exhumation.
The Florianópolis (or Rio Grande) Fracture Zone is marked by an abrupt topographic offset separating the Pelotas Basin from the southern Santos Basin, and the associated volcanic belts limit the southernmost occurrence of the late Aptian evaporite sequence. The evaporite sequence in this segment of the continental margin shows remarkable layering of halite, anhydrite and carnalite. Conjugate to the Rio Grande Rise, the Walvis Ridge, offshore Namibia, is similarly a topographic high, but rift structures as observed in the Brazilian side are apparently unique in the South Atlantic.
Alternative interpretations for the origin of the Rio Grande Rise include: a volcanic edifice or plateau rooted in the mantle; an intraplate shear zone affecting both continental and oceanic crust; an oceanic area of igneous over-productivity caused by a hotspot or a thermal anomaly in the mantle; a palaeo-spreading centre in the Cretaceous Atlantic Ocean; an area of excessive volcanic activity resulting from mantle differentiation due to adiabatic decompression; or perhaps an isolated remnant of continental crust left outboard of the Brazilian continental margin during the drifting process.