Abstract

In the western Mediterranean area, after a long period (late Paleogene-Neogene) of Nubian (W-Africa) northward subduction beneath Eurasia, subduction has almost ceased, as well as convergence accommodation in the subduction zone. With the progression of Nubia-Eurasia convergence, a tectonic reorganization is therefore necessary to accommodate future contraction. Previously-published tectonic, seismological, geodetic, tomographic, and seismic reflection data (integrated by some new GPS velocity data) are reviewed to understand the reorganization of the convergent boundary in the western Mediterranean. Between northern Morocco, to the west, and northern Sicily, to the east, contractional deformation has shifted from the former subduction zone to the margins of the two back-arc oceanic basins (Algerian-Liguro-Provençal and Tyrrhenian basins) and it is now mainly active in the south-Tyrrhenian (northern Sicily), northern Liguro-Provençal, Algerian, and Alboran (partly) margins. Onset of compression and basin inversion has propagated in a scissor-like manner from the Alboran (c. 8 Ma) to the Tyrrhenian (younger than c. 2 Ma) basins following a similar propagation of the cessation of the subduction, i.e., older to the west and younger to the east. It follows that basin inversion is rather advanced on the Algerian margin, where a new southward subduction seems to be in its very infant stage, while it has still to really start in the Tyrrhenian margin, where contraction has resumed at the rear of the fold-thrust belt and may soon invert the Marsili oceanic basin. Part of the contractional deformation may have shifted toward the north in the Liguro-Provençal basin possibly because of its weak rheological properties compared with those of the area between Tunisia and Sardinia, where no oceanic crust occurs and seismic deformation is absent or limited. The tectonic reorganization of the Nubia-Eurasia boundary in the study area is still strongly controlled by the inherited tectonic fabric and rheological attributes, which are strongly heterogeneous along the boundary. These features prevent, at present, the development of long and continuous thrust faults. In an extreme and approximate synthesis, the evolution of the western Mediterranean is inferred to follow a Wilson Cycle (at a small scale) with the following main steps : (1) northward Nubian subduction with Mediterranean back-arc extension (since ~35 Ma); (2) progressive cessation, from west to east, of Nubian main subduction (since ~15 Ma); (3) progressive onset of compression, from west to east, in the former back-arc domain and consequent basin inversion (since ~8–10 Ma); (4) possible future subduction of former back-arc basins.

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