Regional transect across the western Caribbean Sea based on integration of geologic, seismic reflection, gravity, and magnetic data

ABSTRACT

We analyze western Caribbean structural styles and depositional controls associated with Late Cretaceous–Cenozoic deformational events using a 1600-km (994-mi)-long, regional, northwest–southeast transect extending from the Cayman Trough in Honduras to northern Colombia. Different structural provinces defined along the transect include (1) the Cayman Trough and adjacent Honduran borderlands marking the North American–Caribbean transtensional plate boundary characterized by late Eocene–Holocene fault-controlled depocenters; (2) the Nicaraguan Rise that includes continental Paleocene–Eocene rocks deposited in sag basins, which are overlain by relatively undeformed Miocene–Holocene carbonate and clastic shelf deposits of the northern Nicaraguan Rise, following a Late Cretaceous convergent phase; (3) the Colombian Basin that includes thick Miocene clastic depocenters and the localized presence of Upper Cretaceous rocks overlying the basement and where much of the subsidence is likely isostatic and flexurally driven given its proximity to the subduction zone of northern Colombia; (4) the south Caribbean deformed belt, an active, accretionary prism produced by the subduction of the Caribbean large igneous province beneath the South American plate, which has deformed the Cenozoic prism and fore-arc section and produced thrust-fault–controlled accommodation space for upper Miocene–Holocene piggyback deposits; and (5) the onshore Cesar–Rancheria Basin in northern Colombia, which has recorded the uplift of its bounding mountain ranges, the Sierra de Santa Marta massif to the west and Perija Range to the east. Plate reconstructions place the various crustal provinces along the transect into the context of the Late Cretaceous–Cenozoic deformation events that can be partitioned into strike-slip, convergent, and extensional components.

INTRODUCTION AND OBJECTIVES

The Caribbean plate is significantly smaller than its surrounding plates that include the South American continental plate to the southeast, the Cocos and Nazca oceanic plates to the southwest, and the North American continental plate to the north–northeast (Figure 1). The Caribbean plate is composed of various terranes of continental, oceanic plateau, arc, and oceanic crust and exhibits a complex plate movement history from southwest to northeast during the Cretaceous to Paleogene and from west to east during the Paleogene to Holocene (Mann et al., 2006; Boschman et al., 2014).

Figure 1. Major tectonic features of the western Caribbean plate showing major active faults in red and global positioning system (GPS)–based plate velocity vectors as black arrows. The bathymetry is from the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans data set. The regional transect presented in this study includes six individual seismic reflection profiles shown as the heavy yellow lines that include collinear gravity and magnetics data. Wells used to constrain seismic interpretations are shown along with the presence or absence of hydrocarbons indicated. CF = Costa Rica fan; CM = Colon Mountains; CP = Colombian abyssal plain; CRB = Cesar–Rancheria Basin of northern Colombia; KR = Kogi rise; MF = Magdalena fan; MFZ = Motagua fault zone; MR = Mono rise; NDR = Nombre de Dios Range, Honduras; NP = Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; NPDB = north Panama deformed belt; OF = Oca fault, Colombia and Venezuela; PP = Panama abyssal plain; PR = Perija Range; RI = Roatan Island; SBF = Santa Marta–Bucaramanga fault; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; SEP = Santa Elena Peninsula, Costa Rica; SSMM = Sierra de Santa Marta massif, Colombia.

In this paper, we evaluate five adjacent and fault-bounded crustal provinces of the western Caribbean plate using an approximately 1600-km (∼994-mi)-long cross section constructed from an integration of data from outcrop geology of adjacent land areas, seismic reflection profiles, wells, and potential fields data. From northwest to southeast, these crustal provinces include Honduran borderlands, Nicaraguan Rise, Colombian Basin, south Caribbean deformed belt (SCDB), and an onshore basin (Cesar–Rancheria Basin of northern Colombia). All of these crustal provinces are structurally bounded by regional fault systems or subduction plate margins (Figure 1). These block boundaries include significant strike-slip deformation because of the west-to-east motion of the Caribbean plate along its path from its place of origin during the Late Cretaceous in the eastern Pacific Ocean to its present-day position between the North and South American plates (Burke, 1988; Pindell et al., 2005; Seton et al., 2012; Boschman et al., 2014). The complex path of the Caribbean plate has resulted in left-lateral shearing along the Caribbean western and northern margins and right-lateral shearing along the southern margin (Kennan and Pindell, 2009; Boschman et al., 2014).

The purpose of this study is to examine and compare contrasting structural styles of the crustal blocks along the regional cross section that consists of six profiles with seismic reflection, well, gravity, and magnetics data and infer both the main deformational events present along the transect and their tectonic context using quantitative plate reconstructions integrated with published onshore data.

Key questions we address in this study include the following. (1) What are the tectonic origins of the crustal blocks based on their geophysical character (i.e., continental, thinned continental, island arc, oceanic plateau, oceanic)? (2) How does crustal type and thickness control deformational style? (3) What are the mechanisms and tectonic controls on sedimentary basin formation overlying the crustal blocks (i.e., foreland, strike slip, rift, sag)?

TECTONIC AND GEOLOGICAL SETTING OF THE WESTERN CARIBBEAN PLATE

Global positioning system (GPS) velocity vectors indicate that the present-day translation of the Caribbean plate is toward the east–northeast relative to North America—although there are several areas of nonparallelism between the plate motion and local fault systems that result in localized areas of tectonic complexity (DeMets et al., 2007; Calais and Mann, 2009; Figure 1). Previous plate tectonic reconstructions including Seton et al. (2012) and Boschman et al. (2014) have summarized the regional crustal structure and kinematics of the Caribbean region based on decades of previously published geologic and geophysical studies. More detailed background information from previous work on the crustal provinces crossed by our transect in the western Caribbean Sea shown in Figure 1 is summarized below.

The Cayman Trough is a seismically active submarine depression that is 1600 km (994 mi) long and 120–180 km (75–112 mi) wide (Perfit and Heezen, 1978; Figure 1). The Cayman Trough formed as a pull-apart basin evolved from a diffuse Paleocene–early Eocene rifting zone (Mann and Burke, 1990) that later coalesced into a single, approximately 110-km (∼68-mi)-long Eocene oceanic spreading center (Rosencrantz, 1995; Leroy et al., 2000). The mid-Cayman spreading center is currently spreading at a rate of approximately 15 mm/yr (∼0.59 in./yr) (Rosencrantz et al., 1988). The spreading center has produced Eocene to Holocene oceanic crust with an average crustal thickness of 6 km (19,685 ft) (Ewing et al., 1960; ten Brink et al., 2002; Hayman et al., 2011). Gravity modeling has shown very thin crust (2–3 km [6562–9843 ft]) near the spreading ridge of the Cayman Trough, with serpentinized peridotite possibly underlying the thin crust (ten Brink et al., 2002).

The Honduran borderlands is an approximately 100-km (∼62-mi)-wide and elongate offshore province flanking between the Cayman Trough to the northwest and the western Nicaraguan Rise to the southeast. Crustal thickness of 20 to 25 km (65,617–82,021 ft) is suggested for the Honduran borderlands and the western Nicaraguan Rise (Ewing et al., 1960; Case et al., 1990; Emmet and Mann, 2010). Several elongate and fault-bounded basins are separated by narrow submarine ridges trending subparallel to the eastern margin of the Cayman Trough. Large, normal faults bounding these ridges have a significant transtensional component that accommodates left-lateral strike-slip motion along major strike-slip faults that bound the Cayman Trough (Rogers and Mann, 2007). These submarine faults of the Honduran borderlands continue onshore in northern Honduras and bound similar narrow uplifts including the Nombre de Dios Range (Figure 1).

The Nicaraguan Rise, located between the Honduran borderlands and the Colombian Basin (Figure 1), is a northeast–southwest-trending bathymetric high divided into the northern and southern (or lower) Nicaraguan Rise by the left-lateral Pedro Bank fault zone (PBFZ) (Case et al., 1990; Ott, 2015). The northern Nicaraguan Rise includes continental shelf and carbonate banks that are dissected by deep, northwest-trending bathymetric troughs (Figure 1). The Nicaraguan Rise is underlain by both continental to island-arc type crust according to onshore studies in Central America (Arden, 1975; Venable, 1994) and Jamaica (Ott, 2015) and analysis of samples of basement metamorphic rocks and island-arc granitoids from offshore wells (Holcombe et al., 1990; Lewis et al., 2011). From previous refraction studies, the Nicaraguan Rise has a crustal thickness of approximately 20–25 km (∼65,617–82,021 ft) (Ewing et al., 1960; Edgar et al., 1971).

The southern Nicaraguan Rise is a deep-water province mainly covered by Neogene pelagic rocks and contrasting to the shallow-water carbonate platform of the northern Nicaraguan Rise. The southern Nicaraguan Rise is underlain by an oceanic plateau basement with a crustal thickness of approximately 15–20 km (∼49,213–65,617 ft) (Mauffret and Leroy, 1997). The southeastern boundary of the southern Nicaraguan Rise is sharply delineated by the Hess fault zone (HFZ), an approximately 1000-km (∼621-mi)-long fault zone that ranges in bathymetric relief from 100 to 3000 m (328 to 9843 ft). This fault zone has been inactive since the Late Cretaceous (Case et al., 1990), except in its southwestern segment, where it exhibits young faults cutting the sea floor and seismicity (Bowland, 1993; Carvajal-Arenas and Mann, 2018).

The Colombian Basin, to the southeast of the Nicaraguan Rise, is underlain by the Caribbean large igneous province (CLIP) (Burke et al., 1978; Burke, 1988) with a crustal thickness between approximately 10 and 18 km (∼32,808 and 59,055 ft) (Ewing et al., 1960; Houtz and Ludwig, 1977). The area of crustal thinning (∼8.5 km [∼27,887.1 ft] thick) in the central part of the Colombian Basin is interpreted as a localized zone of normal oceanic crust (Bowland and Rosencrantz, 1988). The main sediment supply of the eastern Colombian Basin was derived from northern South America, was transported through northwestern South America by the Magdalena River, and was deposited in the Magdalena submarine fan (Kolla et al., 1984; Holcombe et al., 1990; Figure 1).

The SCDB located to the southeast of the Colombian Basin is an approximately 100-km (∼62-mi)-wide late Cenozoic accretionary prism formed as the result of subduction of the Caribbean plate beneath the South American plate (Figure 1). The SCDB ranges in sedimentary thickness from 8 to 17 km (26,247 to 55,774 ft) (Flinch et al., 2003; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c). Changes in deformational style along the strike of the SCDB have been attributed to (1) differences in the structural regime from more convergent to the south to an increasing, left-lateral strike-slip component to the northeast and east (Duque-Caro, 1984; Ruiz et al., 2000; Kroehler et al., 2011); (2) differences in timing of deformation, with the most recent deformation found in the northeastern and eastern SCDB (Kroehler et al., 2011); and (3) compartmentalization of the SCDB by northwest–southeast-striking, transverse strike-slip faults (Vernette et al., 1992). Shortening across the area of the SCDB since the Miocene has been calculated to range from 15 to 30 km (9 to 19 mi) and has accompanied at least 100–150 km (62–93 mi) of subduction beneath northern Colombia (Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c).

Onshore intermontane basins in the Andean Mountains of northern Colombia show a complex history given by their proximity to the active subduction plate margin. The Cesar–Rancheria Basin of northern Colombia has a complex structural history reflecting Late Cretaceous to Holocene tectonic events along the plate margin (Sanchez and Mann, 2015). The Cesar–Rancheria Basin is located approximately 200 km (∼124 mi) to the southeast of the Caribbean–South American plate margin and is bounded by the Sierra de Santa Marta massif to the northwest and the Perija Range to the southeast (Figure 1). The Cesar–Rancheria Basin contains an approximately 7-km (∼22,966-ft)-thick clastic wedge developed on the southeastern flank of the Sierra de Santa Marta massif that records sub-Cretaceous continental, Cretaceous marine, and Cenozoic continental sedimentary deposits (Bayona et al., 2007; Ayala, 2009; Sanchez and Mann, 2015). The Cenozoic clastic wedge in the Cesar–Rancheria Basin indicates tilting and unroofing of the Sierra de Santa Marta massif by the Paleocene (Bayona et al., 2007) and has been linked to the collision and partial accretion of the Great Arc of the Caribbean with the continental margin of northwestern South America (Mann et al., 2006; Cardona et al., 2011a, b; Escalona and Mann, 2011). An accelerated pulse of uplift by late Miocene controlled the uplift and faulting in the eastern part of the basin and is related to the collision of the Panama arc with northwestern South America during the late Miocene (Sanchez and Mann, 2015).

METHODS USED IN THIS STUDY

In this study, we integrate interpretations of two-dimensional (2-D)–reflection seismic profiles tied to well data, modeling of potential fields data, structural analysis, and plate reconstructions. The objective of this study is to improve our understanding of different structural styles and deformational from different crustal provinces of the western Caribbean, their tectonic origin and plate tectonic evolution.

Potential Fields Analysis

We used a marine gravity anomaly grid from satellite altimeter profiles (Sandwell et al., 2014) and an Earth magnetic anomaly grid compiled from satellite, airborne, and marine measurements (Maus et al., 2009) to interpret regional crustal features in the western Caribbean region (Figure 2). The free-air gravity anomaly was processed in the Geosoft Oasis Montaj software to obtain the Bouguer anomaly after adding the Bouguer correction (using a density of 0.97 g/cm3). The total magnetic field was enhanced using the Geosoft Oasis Montaj software to calculate a reduced to the pole (RTP) grid using an average latitude of 15°N. The RTP grid displays the magnetic anomalies as if the western Caribbean study area were located at the geomagnetic pole (Baranov and Naudy, 1964). In the onshore area of northwestern South America, Bouguer anomaly and total magnetic field grids were kindly provided to us by Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos (ANH) of Colombia (Sanchez and Mann, 2015; Figure 2).

Figure 2. (A) Bouguer gravity anomaly of the western Caribbean Sea from Sandwell et al. (2014). (B) Total magnetic field from Maus et al. (2009). Both maps show major faults along boundaries of crustal provinces as described in this paper. White circles represent published seismic refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) and Garnier-Villarreal (2012). White squares show locations of published receiver function measurements from Poveda et al. (2015). Seismic sections shown in Figures 4B, 6B, 8B, 10B, and 12B are displayed in yellow; wells are shown as red dots. NPDB = north Panama deformed belt; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; SSMM = Sierra de Santa Marta massif.

The 2-D gravity and magnetic forward modeling were performed using seismic refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960), Edgar et al. (1971), and Garnier-Villarreal (2012); receiver functions in onshore areas from Niu et al. (2007) and Poveda et al. (2015); other regional studies from Case et al. (1990), Mauffret and Leroy (1997), and Emmet and Mann (2010); and our interpretations of seismic reflection data as constraints. Standard values of density and magnetic susceptibility (Lowrie, 2007) were assigned for different layers of the models.

Seismic and Well Data Interpretation

We used approximately 1600 km (∼994 mi) of 2-D seismic data along six profiles, which were kindly provided by Petroleum Geo-Services, Spectrum, ANH, and the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) or from previously published seismic reflection profiles. The seismic lines were interpreted in the software Petrel (Schlumberger) based on ties to eight wells (Figure 1) and previous seismic interpretations (Kolla et al., 1984; Bowland, 1993; Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Abrams and Hu, 2000; Rogers and Mann, 2007; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015b; Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2015; Sanchez and Mann, 2015; Sanchez et al., 2015), considering the main structural features that affect six stratigraphic successions (Cretaceous–sub-Cretaceous, Eocene–Paleocene, lower Miocene–Oligocene, upper Miocene, Pliocene–upper Miocene, Holocene–Pliocene) and the stratal relationship between seismic reflections such as onlaps, downlaps, and erosional truncations, which may indicate the dynamics of sediment supply, basin filling, and tectonic processes (Mitchum et al., 1977). For our well to seismic ties, we used available time–depth curves from checkshots and constructed synthetic seismograms (Figure 3). Well information, such as electrical logs, biostratigraphy, and lithological descriptions, was also useful for our interpretations (Abrams and Hu, 2000; P. Emmet, 2013, personal communication; H. Aves and R. Manton, 2014, personal communication). We created a simple velocity model along the interpreted seismic profiles using the well-seismic ties to convert the seismic reflection from two-way time (TWT) to depth in meters.

Figure 3. Wells used to correlate and constrain interpretations of the seismic, gravity, and magnetic sections shown in Figures 1 and 2. Each well shows its time–depth correlation, a gamma-ray (GR) log, a seismic display taken from the closest seismic profile, a synthetic seismogram, and lithologies (Litho) of the well units. Tops of the different packages in the well logs indicate their ages and are interpreted from seismic profiles shown in Figures 4–13. The seismic line correlated with well ODP-999 is taken from Abrams and Hu (2000). SSTVT = true stratigraphic thickness (subsea) in meters; TWT = two-way time in milliseconds.

Structural Modeling

A regional structural cross section in depth was constructed for each seismic profile interpretation. Simple decompaction to remove the effect of the overburden compaction was carried out using the Move software developed by Midland Valley. It uses the equation f = f0(ecy), from Sclater and Christie (1980), where f is the present-day porosity, f0 is the porosity at the surface, c is the depth–porosity coefficient (kilometers−1), and y is depth (meters). We considered values of 49% and 52% for initial porosity of predominantly clastic and carbonate units, respectively, and depth–porosity coefficients of 0.27 and 0.50 for sandy and shaly rocks, respectively (Sclater and Christie, 1980; Allen and Allen, 2013). Assuming plane-strain conditions (Dahlstrom, 1969), we estimated the amount of deformation of 2-D cross sections in different stages by applying the fault-parallel flow algorithm to restore the dip-slip motion of faults and the flexural-slip unfolding algorithm to restore folds using the Move software.

Plate Reconstruction and Integration

To visualize and better quantify the relationship between plate tectonic predictions and our observation compiled along the transect, we used PaleoGIS software from the Rothwell Group and modified the UTIG PLATES tectonic model from Escalona and Norton (2015) for the Caribbean region. Based on the plate reconstruction and the calculated deformation along the interpreted sections, we calculated percentages of deformation parallel to the instantaneous plate motion direction and parallel to plate margins and the edges of major crustal province boundaries for key geologic periods. The plate model provides an estimate of the observed strike-slip components calculated along the different sections (Figure 1).

STRUCTURAL CONFIGURATION

Honduran Borderlands and Northern Nicaraguan Rise

In the Honduran borderlands and the northwesternmost part of the northern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 1), 2-D gravity and magnetic models that are collinear with seismic profiles (A and B) show free-air gravity anomalies ranging from 0 to 50 mGal. Magnetic anomalies appear relatively uniform in the Honduran borderlands and western Nicaraguan Rise, showing values between −70 and 0 nT (Figure 4A). Deep reflections on the seismic profile (Figure 4B) are associated with the Moho discontinuity (Emmet and Mann, 2010) and are used as constraint for the gravity and magnetic modeling in this area. In the Cayman Trough in the northern part of the study area (Figure 4A), the crustal thickness is approximately 6 km (∼19,685 ft) as constrained by a gravity study from ten Brink et al. (2002). A seismic profile (Figure 4B) is correlated with ages of Cenozoic units known from the Main Cape-1 well (Figure 3,4B). Recent folding and faulting of the sea floor is observed in the Honduran borderlands, and growth strata and onlap terminations are present within the Pliocene–upper Miocene sedimentary section (Figure 5A). In contrast, the northwestern Nicaraguan Rise shows little to no recent deformation of the sea floor. Instead, the northwestern Nicaraguan Rise shows onlap stratal terminations of Eocene–Paleocene rocks overlying a top Cretaceous unconformity with stratal truncations defining an unconformity at the top of the Miocene (Figures 4B; 5B, C).

Figure 4. (A) Section A crossing the Honduran borderlands and western Nicaraguan Rise (see Figure 1 for location) shows the crustal structure based on gravity and magnetic modeling. A projected seismic refraction measurement from Ewing et al. (1960) and a deep reflection associated with the Moho (Emmet and Mann, 2010) are used as constraints for gravity and magnetic modeling. The dashed box indicates the location of the seismic profile shown in (B). (B) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profile for section A. Section A includes the Main Cape-1 well that was used to constrain the seismic interpretation and is shown in Figure 3. ρ = density; CT = Cayman Trough; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; SIFZ = Swan Islands faults zone; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

In the southeastern Nicaraguan Rise, the free-air gravity profile indicates a range from 0 to 40 mGal, and the magnetic field shows values between −60 and 130 nT (Figure 6A). The Bouguer anomaly grid shows a decrease from the Honduran borderlands to the Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 2A), and the total magnetic field illustrates higher values in the southeastern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 2B). Crustal thickness values of approximately 20–30 km (∼65,617–98,425 ft) have been previously reported in the area of Honduran borderlands and Nicaraguan Rise (Ewing et al., 1960; Case et al., 1990; Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Garnier-Villarreal, 2012). A seismic profile across the eastern part of the Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 6B) can be correlated with ages of units in the Diamante-1 and Miskito-1 wells (Figure 3). The profile shows undeformed sequences with minor normal faults and a general southward thickening of Pliocene–upper Miocene clastic growth strata and stratal truncations against an unconformity at the top of this package (Figures 6B; 7A, B). A proposed shale diapir deforms the Pliocene–upper Miocene section (Figure 7B).

Figure 5. Zooms to illustrate the details of the regional seismic line shown in Figure 4B (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 4B). (A) Individual fault-bounded transtensional basins within the Honduran borderlands show syntectonic control on their deposition. (B) Basement high along the western flank of the Nicaraguan Rise showing thickness changes in the upper Miocene and Eocene sequences that are controlled by transtensional deformation along the western Nicaraguan Rise. (C) Thickening in the Eocene sequence and formation of an unfaulted sag basin is attributed to postcollisional relaxation. TWT = two-way time.

Interpretation

Results of gravity and magnetic modeling in the western Nicaraguan Rise show an approximately 15-km (∼49,213-ft)-thick continental crust. A fault abruptly separates this area of the Nicaraguan Rise from the approximately 6–8-km (∼19,685–26,247-ft)-thick oceanic crust in the Cayman Trough (Figure 4A). In the eastern part of the Nicaraguan Rise, approximately 20–25-km (∼65,617–82,021-ft)-thick continental crust (Figure 6A) is in contact with a denser, arc-type crust. This contrast is related to the offshore extension of the onshore fault boundary in Nicaragua and Honduras that separates the continental Chortis block and the Siuna terrane (Rogers et al., 2007a). Depth to the basement in the Cayman Trough is approximately 4–5 km (∼13,123–16,404 ft) and increases to the east to approximately 6–7 km (∼19,685–22,966 ft) in the Honduran borderlands and approximately 8–10 km (∼26,247–32,808 ft) in the Nicaraguan Rise (Figures 4A, 6A).

Figure 6. Section B along the Nicaraguan Rise (see Figure 1 for location). (A) Gravity and magnetic modeling along section B show the crustal structure across the proposed crustal boundary separating the continental crust of the Chortis block from the island-arc crust of the Siuna terrane. Seismic refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) and Garnier-Villarreal (2012) are projected onto the northern and central parts of the profile, respectively. The dashed box indicates the location of the seismic profile in (B). (B) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profile. Miskito-1 well is tied to the seismic interpretation shown in Figure 3. ρ = density; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

The Paleocene section on the Nicaraguan Rise was deposited above an unconformity recording a major Late Cretaceous uplift event related to the collision between the Chortis block and the Great Arc of the Caribbean (Sanchez et al., 2015; Figure 5B). Thick-skinned, basement-offsetting faults are interpreted as thrust faults (Figure 4B) formed during the Late Cretaceous uplift event and correlative with the on-land Colon fold-thrust belt of eastern Honduras (Rogers et al., 2007b; Sanchez et al., 2015; Figure 1). These thrust faults were reactivated in the Eocene to Holocene as transtensional faults, especially within the Honduran borderlands adjacent to the Cayman Trough (Figure 1).

Figure 7. Zooms to illustrate the details of the regional seismic line shown in Figure 6B (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 6B). (A) Thickness changes in the Pliocene–upper Miocene section on the eastern flank of the Nicaraguan Rise (NR). (B) Normal faulting and development of syntectonic, sedimentary strata in the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence of the eastern NR that is accompanied by inferred shale diapirism. (C) Unconformity at top of Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence is overlain by onlap stratal terminations and underlain by strata truncations. In the Eocene–Paleocene sequence, higher-reflectivity and mounded geometries may indicate the presence of carbonate reefs. TWT = two-way time.

A Pliocene–late Miocene extensional episode controlled the deposition of a thick syntectonic sequence in the Honduran borderlands (Sanchez et al., 2015; Figures 4B, 5A). In the eastern part of the Nicaraguan Rise, the thickness of the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence, beyond the platform edge, may be related to a high sediment supply in a deepening basin toward the south and/or normal faulting associated with the vicinity of the San Andres rift (Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2013), where some erosion may have removed the tops of tilted fault blocks (Figures 6B; 7A, B).

Southern Nicaraguan Rise

The Bouguer gravity anomaly of the southern Nicaraguan Rise shows intermediate values that increase southward of the HFZ and into the Colombian Basin (Figure 2A). The total magnetic field map displays a shorter wavelength in comparison with the northern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 2B). Gravity and magnetic modeling along seismic profile C (Figure 1) display a signature of the free-air gravity anomaly ranging from −10 to 80 mGal (Figure 8A) and a magnetic field anomaly profile with values between −50 and 80 nT, with a significant magnetic anomaly high located in the center of the profile (Figure 8A).

Figure 8. Section C along the Southern Nicaraguan Rise (see Figure 1 for location). (A) Gravity and magnetic modeling show the crustal structure underlying this transect. Seismic reflector for the top basement surface and projected refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) are used as constraints for the modeling. The dashed box indicates the location of the seismic profile in (B). (B) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profile. Well ODP-999 shown in Figure 3 was used in the interpretation and is tied to the seismic profile. ρ = density; CLIP = Caribbean large igneous province; HFZ = Hess fault zone; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

The northwestern part of the seismic profile crosses the southern Nicaraguan Rise, and the southeastern part of this profile crosses the western Colombian Basin (Figure 8B). The seismic line is tied to the ODP-999 well in the Colombian Basin (Figure 3, 9C). Thickness changes within the Cenozoic sequences and normal faults are common along the seismic profile with onlap and downlap stratal terminations—especially within the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence (Figure 8B).

Figure 9. Zooms to illustrate the details of the regional seismic line shown in Figure 8B (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 8B). (A) Basement highs in the southern Nicaraguan Rise are associated with a possible volcanic center. (B) Expression of the Hess fault zone (HFZ) shows an eroded sea-floor escarpment (northwest side up) and possible volcanic feature that formed since the Eocene–Paleocene. (C) The Kogi rise is underlain by westward-dipping intrabasement reflectors overlain by an Upper Cretaceous to Cenozoic section drilled by the ODP-999 well. TWT = two-way time.

In general, structural highs show stratal wedging of clastic growth strata (Figure 9A, B). The HFZ, which forms a major linear bathymetric escarpment and gravimetric lineament (Figures 1, 2A) appears as a subvertical fault zone on the seismic profile (Figures 8B, 9B) and is associated with growth strata of Paleocene–Eocene and younger sequences (Figure 9B).

The western Colombia Basin seen on the easternmost part of the seismic profile includes a bathymetric high called the Kogi rise (Abrams and Hu, 2000; Figure 1). Thinning in the Cretaceous and Eocene–Paleocene sequences is observed at the top of this high, and Eocene–Paleocene growth strata are present along its western flank (Figure 9A). The Kogi rise exhibits westward-dipping, intrabasement reflectors.

Interpretation

Pliocene–upper Miocene thickness changes show syntectonic control associated with normal faults. The formation of basement highs during the Paleocene to Holocene affected the deposition of sediments; currently, these highs form bathymetric elevations. Characteristic cone shapes suggest the presence of volcanic centers active since the Cretaceous and show episodic growth through the Cenozoic (Carvajal-Arenas and Mann, 2018; Figure 9A).

The HFZ forms an elongate, bathymetric high, as described by Mauffret and Leroy (1997) to the north of this profile (Figure 9C). These authors did not find evidence of Cenozoic fault activity in this locality, in contrast to Bowland (1993), who used UTIG seismic profiles—farther south of our profile—to present evidence for recent geologic deformation along this seismically active segment of the HFZ. Given the presence of a conical geometry of high amplitude in its top and no internal reflections, volcanism may have been associated with the HFZ (Figure 9B).

Reflectors within the basement (Figure 8B) are interpreted as different volcanic centers associated with the CLIP, rather than seaward-dipping reflectors (Mutter et al., 1982). These types of reflectors have been widely reported in the Caribbean region (Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2013; Ott, 2015). A deep reflector into the basement (7–8.5 s TWT) in the seismic profile may image the base of the CLIP (Figure 8B).

The presence of growth strata suggests an uplift event of the Kogi rise by the Eocene–Paleocene with recent uplift of this basement high also supported by the absence of the Holocene–Pliocene strata at the top of the high (Figure 9C). Results of the gravity and magnetic modeling show an approximately 15–20-km (∼49,213–65,617-ft)-thick Caribbean oceanic plateau crust that exhibits southeastward crustal thinning. The depth to basement has been proposed by several authors in the western Caribbean (Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Garnier-Villarreal, 2012; Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2013; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c) with less than 5 km (16,404 ft) of overlying sedimentary section, which is in good agreement with the higher magnetic field wavelength in the southern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 2B).

Colombian Basin

Gravity and magnetic modeling along this section display a higher free-air gravity anomaly in the central part (∼20 mGal) and lower gravity values to the east (∼−80 mGal) of the profile (Figure 10A). The Bouguer anomaly (Figure 2A) also shows higher values in the western Colombian Basin, which are associated with a decrease in crustal thickness of approximately 15 km (∼49,213 ft) constrained with refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) and a seismic regional study from Mauffret and Leroy (1997). The total magnetic field displays a range from −170 to 50 nT (Figure 10A).

Figure 10. Section D along the Colombian Basin (see Figure 1 for location). (A) Gravity and magnetic modeling show the crustal structure of the Colombian Basin. Projected seismic refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) are used as constraint of crustal thickness, and the seismic profile is used as control of the depth to the top basement. The dashed box indicates the location of the seismic profile (B). (B) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profile. ρ = density; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

A seismic profile with a northwest–southeast trend (section D) across the Colombian Basin (Figure 1) displays a gently westward-sloping sea floor in approximately 2500 to 3900 m (∼8202 to 12,795 ft) water depth. In the westernmost part, a slight bathymetric high is expressed in the basement that also displays intrabasement, eastward-dipping reflectors (Figure 11A). Onlap stratal terminations of the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence occur against highs in the western, central, and eastern parts of the Colombian Basin (Figures 10B, 11B). The southeastern end of the seismic profile shows an abrupt eastern thickening of the upper Miocene sequence (Figures 10B, 11C) and onlap stratal terminations toward the west.

Interpretation

An approximately 15–20-km (∼49,213–65,617-ft)-thick crust associated with the CLIP—which is thinner toward the center of the profile—corresponds to the observed positive gravity anomaly (Figures 2A, 10A). The increase in magnetic wavelength (Figure 2B) may represent eastward thickening in the sedimentary cover, from approximately 5 km (∼16,404 ft) to approximately 15 km (∼49,213 ft) (Bowland, 1993; Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c).

Figure 11. Zooms to illustrate the details of the regional seismic line shown in Figure 10B (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 10B). (A) Eastward thickening of the Pliocene–upper Miocene section produces onlap strata terminations that overlie the upper Miocene section. Eastward-dipping reflectors are present within the basement. (B) Pliocene–upper Miocene thicknesses vary along onlap stratal terminations and likely record normal growth faulting. The upper Miocene sequence shows an antiformal geometry cored by basement. (C) Thickening of the Miocene strata indicating downward flexure of the Caribbean large igneous province basement during its subduction beneath northwestern South America. TWT = two-way time.

The conspicuous onlapping stratal terminations within the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence indicate a process of subsidence and basin filling resulting from high sediment supply in the tectonically quiescent area of the distal Magdalena submarine fan (Kolla et al., 1984; Romero-Otero, 2009; Leslie and Mann, 2016; Figure 1). This sedimentation continued during the Pliocene to Holocene with major supply from South America and growth of the SCDB, because it displays tilting and deformation of Pliocene–Holocene strata to the southeast and the formation of thick and extensive mass transport complexes extending outward onto the Magdalena fan (Leslie and Mann, 2016; Figure 11C). The northwestern boundary of the Colombian Basin also shows young deformation of Pliocene–Holocene strata (Figure 11A). An increase in thickness of the upper Miocene interval and onlap terminations in the southeast of the profile would represent the record of the load provided by the SCDB and flexure produced on the Caribbean basement (Figure 11C).

Widespread folding in the upper Miocene interval is present on the central part of the profile (Figure 11B), reflecting a combination of (1) active uplift following the deposition of these strata that could involve the basement and (2) higher sedimentation rates. The presence of Cretaceous strata is very localized in some areas along the seismic profile and indicates restricted areas of sedimentation during the Cretaceous within basement lows (Kroehler et al., 2011). The different attitude of basement-dipping reflectors may represent the existence of several magmatic centers in the basement (Hoernle et al., 2004; Ott, 2015) related to the development and growth of the CLIP by the Late Cretaceous.

South Caribbean Deformed Belt

A regional gravity and magnetic model along the northern margin of South America (Figure 12A) shows a major gravity anomaly in the central part of the profile and lows in the northwest and southeast with values ranging between −100 and 180 mGal. The total magnetic field profile (Figure 12A) presents values from −200 to 50 nT. The Bouguer anomaly map indicates a gravity low (Figure 2A) in the position of the SCDB and a conspicuous boundary with the Colombian Basin province that may be related to the increase of sedimentary thickness because of the higher sedimentary supply from the continent (Flinch et al., 2003; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c; Leslie and Mann, 2016).

Figure 12. Sections E and F along the south Caribbean deformed belt (SCDB) and the onshore Cesar–Rancheria Basin (CRB) of northern Colombia (see Figure 1 for location). (A) Gravity and magnetic modeling show the crustal provinces underlying the transect across northwestern South America. The Caribbean large igneous province subducts at a low angle beneath the continental plate of northwestern South America in Colombia. Moho depth from projected seismic refraction data is from Ewing et al. (1960), and our seismic profiles constrain the depth to Moho and top basement, respectively, in the offshore areas. Crustal thicknesses from receiver functions are used to calibrate the onshore Moho depth (Poveda et al., 2015). The dashed boxes show the locations of the seismic profiles (B) and (C) that were used in the transect. (B, C) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profiles crossing (B) the SCDB and (C) the CRB. Wells Cesar H-1X and El Paso-3 are used to constrain the seismic profile through the CRB. ρ = density; CB = Colombian Basin; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; SSMM = Sierra de Santa Marta massif; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

A seismic profile along the SCDB shows bathymetric shallowing in an eastward direction from approximately 3000 m (∼9843 ft) to 100 m (328 ft) (Figure 1). This north-northwest–south-southeast profile is located to the northwest of the Sierra de Santa Marta massif (Figure 1). Subhorizontal and uniform reflectors are observed in the northwestern part of the profile. Toward the southeast, the sea bottom is folded, and its relief increases (Figures 12B, 13A); this area corresponds to the westernmost part of the SCDB. An exploration well (Cartagena-3) (Figures 1, 3) located near this profile allows interpretations of approximate ages for the interpreted sequences.

Figure 13. Areas of zooms of seismic lines shown in Figure 12B, C (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 12B). (A) Frontal part of the south Caribbean deformed belt is a westward-vergent accretionary prism with associated shale diapirism. (B) Thickness changes, syntectonic strata, and local areas of normal faulting deforming the Pliocene sequences all accompany post-Pliocene shortening. (C) Unconformity at the base of the lower Miocene–Oligocene sequence truncates convergent structures in the Cretaceous and sub-Cretaceous sequences. TWT = two-way time.

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ABSTRACT

We analyze western Caribbean structural styles and depositional controls associated with Late Cretaceous–Cenozoic deformational events using a 1600-km (994-mi)-long, regional, northwest–southeast transect extending from the Cayman Trough in Honduras to northern Colombia. Different structural provinces defined along the transect include (1) the Cayman Trough and adjacent Honduran borderlands marking the North American–Caribbean transtensional plate boundary characterized by late Eocene–Holocene fault-controlled depocenters; (2) the Nicaraguan Rise that includes continental Paleocene–Eocene rocks deposited in sag basins, which are overlain by relatively undeformed Miocene–Holocene carbonate and clastic shelf deposits of the northern Nicaraguan Rise, following a Late Cretaceous convergent phase; (3) the Colombian Basin that includes thick Miocene clastic depocenters and the localized presence of Upper Cretaceous rocks overlying the basement and where much of the subsidence is likely isostatic and flexurally driven given its proximity to the subduction zone of northern Colombia; (4) the south Caribbean deformed belt, an active, accretionary prism produced by the subduction of the Caribbean large igneous province beneath the South American plate, which has deformed the Cenozoic prism and fore-arc section and produced thrust-fault–controlled accommodation space for upper Miocene–Holocene piggyback deposits; and (5) the onshore Cesar–Rancheria Basin in northern Colombia, which has recorded the uplift of its bounding mountain ranges, the Sierra de Santa Marta massif to the west and Perija Range to the east. Plate reconstructions place the various crustal provinces along the transect into the context of the Late Cretaceous–Cenozoic deformation events that can be partitioned into strike-slip, convergent, and extensional components.

INTRODUCTION AND OBJECTIVES

The Caribbean plate is significantly smaller than its surrounding plates that include the South American continental plate to the southeast, the Cocos and Nazca oceanic plates to the southwest, and the North American continental plate to the north–northeast (Figure 1). The Caribbean plate is composed of various terranes of continental, oceanic plateau, arc, and oceanic crust and exhibits a complex plate movement history from southwest to northeast during the Cretaceous to Paleogene and from west to east during the Paleogene to Holocene (Mann et al., 2006; Boschman et al., 2014).

Figure 1. Major tectonic features of the western Caribbean plate showing major active faults in red and global positioning system (GPS)–based plate velocity vectors as black arrows. The bathymetry is from the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans data set. The regional transect presented in this study includes six individual seismic reflection profiles shown as the heavy yellow lines that include collinear gravity and magnetics data. Wells used to constrain seismic interpretations are shown along with the presence or absence of hydrocarbons indicated. CF = Costa Rica fan; CM = Colon Mountains; CP = Colombian abyssal plain; CRB = Cesar–Rancheria Basin of northern Colombia; KR = Kogi rise; MF = Magdalena fan; MFZ = Motagua fault zone; MR = Mono rise; NDR = Nombre de Dios Range, Honduras; NP = Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; NPDB = north Panama deformed belt; OF = Oca fault, Colombia and Venezuela; PP = Panama abyssal plain; PR = Perija Range; RI = Roatan Island; SBF = Santa Marta–Bucaramanga fault; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; SEP = Santa Elena Peninsula, Costa Rica; SSMM = Sierra de Santa Marta massif, Colombia.

In this paper, we evaluate five adjacent and fault-bounded crustal provinces of the western Caribbean plate using an approximately 1600-km (∼994-mi)-long cross section constructed from an integration of data from outcrop geology of adjacent land areas, seismic reflection profiles, wells, and potential fields data. From northwest to southeast, these crustal provinces include Honduran borderlands, Nicaraguan Rise, Colombian Basin, south Caribbean deformed belt (SCDB), and an onshore basin (Cesar–Rancheria Basin of northern Colombia). All of these crustal provinces are structurally bounded by regional fault systems or subduction plate margins (Figure 1). These block boundaries include significant strike-slip deformation because of the west-to-east motion of the Caribbean plate along its path from its place of origin during the Late Cretaceous in the eastern Pacific Ocean to its present-day position between the North and South American plates (Burke, 1988; Pindell et al., 2005; Seton et al., 2012; Boschman et al., 2014). The complex path of the Caribbean plate has resulted in left-lateral shearing along the Caribbean western and northern margins and right-lateral shearing along the southern margin (Kennan and Pindell, 2009; Boschman et al., 2014).

The purpose of this study is to examine and compare contrasting structural styles of the crustal blocks along the regional cross section that consists of six profiles with seismic reflection, well, gravity, and magnetics data and infer both the main deformational events present along the transect and their tectonic context using quantitative plate reconstructions integrated with published onshore data.

Key questions we address in this study include the following. (1) What are the tectonic origins of the crustal blocks based on their geophysical character (i.e., continental, thinned continental, island arc, oceanic plateau, oceanic)? (2) How does crustal type and thickness control deformational style? (3) What are the mechanisms and tectonic controls on sedimentary basin formation overlying the crustal blocks (i.e., foreland, strike slip, rift, sag)?

TECTONIC AND GEOLOGICAL SETTING OF THE WESTERN CARIBBEAN PLATE

Global positioning system (GPS) velocity vectors indicate that the present-day translation of the Caribbean plate is toward the east–northeast relative to North America—although there are several areas of nonparallelism between the plate motion and local fault systems that result in localized areas of tectonic complexity (DeMets et al., 2007; Calais and Mann, 2009; Figure 1). Previous plate tectonic reconstructions including Seton et al. (2012) and Boschman et al. (2014) have summarized the regional crustal structure and kinematics of the Caribbean region based on decades of previously published geologic and geophysical studies. More detailed background information from previous work on the crustal provinces crossed by our transect in the western Caribbean Sea shown in Figure 1 is summarized below.

The Cayman Trough is a seismically active submarine depression that is 1600 km (994 mi) long and 120–180 km (75–112 mi) wide (Perfit and Heezen, 1978; Figure 1). The Cayman Trough formed as a pull-apart basin evolved from a diffuse Paleocene–early Eocene rifting zone (Mann and Burke, 1990) that later coalesced into a single, approximately 110-km (∼68-mi)-long Eocene oceanic spreading center (Rosencrantz, 1995; Leroy et al., 2000). The mid-Cayman spreading center is currently spreading at a rate of approximately 15 mm/yr (∼0.59 in./yr) (Rosencrantz et al., 1988). The spreading center has produced Eocene to Holocene oceanic crust with an average crustal thickness of 6 km (19,685 ft) (Ewing et al., 1960; ten Brink et al., 2002; Hayman et al., 2011). Gravity modeling has shown very thin crust (2–3 km [6562–9843 ft]) near the spreading ridge of the Cayman Trough, with serpentinized peridotite possibly underlying the thin crust (ten Brink et al., 2002).

The Honduran borderlands is an approximately 100-km (∼62-mi)-wide and elongate offshore province flanking between the Cayman Trough to the northwest and the western Nicaraguan Rise to the southeast. Crustal thickness of 20 to 25 km (65,617–82,021 ft) is suggested for the Honduran borderlands and the western Nicaraguan Rise (Ewing et al., 1960; Case et al., 1990; Emmet and Mann, 2010). Several elongate and fault-bounded basins are separated by narrow submarine ridges trending subparallel to the eastern margin of the Cayman Trough. Large, normal faults bounding these ridges have a significant transtensional component that accommodates left-lateral strike-slip motion along major strike-slip faults that bound the Cayman Trough (Rogers and Mann, 2007). These submarine faults of the Honduran borderlands continue onshore in northern Honduras and bound similar narrow uplifts including the Nombre de Dios Range (Figure 1).

The Nicaraguan Rise, located between the Honduran borderlands and the Colombian Basin (Figure 1), is a northeast–southwest-trending bathymetric high divided into the northern and southern (or lower) Nicaraguan Rise by the left-lateral Pedro Bank fault zone (PBFZ) (Case et al., 1990; Ott, 2015). The northern Nicaraguan Rise includes continental shelf and carbonate banks that are dissected by deep, northwest-trending bathymetric troughs (Figure 1). The Nicaraguan Rise is underlain by both continental to island-arc type crust according to onshore studies in Central America (Arden, 1975; Venable, 1994) and Jamaica (Ott, 2015) and analysis of samples of basement metamorphic rocks and island-arc granitoids from offshore wells (Holcombe et al., 1990; Lewis et al., 2011). From previous refraction studies, the Nicaraguan Rise has a crustal thickness of approximately 20–25 km (∼65,617–82,021 ft) (Ewing et al., 1960; Edgar et al., 1971).

The southern Nicaraguan Rise is a deep-water province mainly covered by Neogene pelagic rocks and contrasting to the shallow-water carbonate platform of the northern Nicaraguan Rise. The southern Nicaraguan Rise is underlain by an oceanic plateau basement with a crustal thickness of approximately 15–20 km (∼49,213–65,617 ft) (Mauffret and Leroy, 1997). The southeastern boundary of the southern Nicaraguan Rise is sharply delineated by the Hess fault zone (HFZ), an approximately 1000-km (∼621-mi)-long fault zone that ranges in bathymetric relief from 100 to 3000 m (328 to 9843 ft). This fault zone has been inactive since the Late Cretaceous (Case et al., 1990), except in its southwestern segment, where it exhibits young faults cutting the sea floor and seismicity (Bowland, 1993; Carvajal-Arenas and Mann, 2018).

The Colombian Basin, to the southeast of the Nicaraguan Rise, is underlain by the Caribbean large igneous province (CLIP) (Burke et al., 1978; Burke, 1988) with a crustal thickness between approximately 10 and 18 km (∼32,808 and 59,055 ft) (Ewing et al., 1960; Houtz and Ludwig, 1977). The area of crustal thinning (∼8.5 km [∼27,887.1 ft] thick) in the central part of the Colombian Basin is interpreted as a localized zone of normal oceanic crust (Bowland and Rosencrantz, 1988). The main sediment supply of the eastern Colombian Basin was derived from northern South America, was transported through northwestern South America by the Magdalena River, and was deposited in the Magdalena submarine fan (Kolla et al., 1984; Holcombe et al., 1990; Figure 1).

The SCDB located to the southeast of the Colombian Basin is an approximately 100-km (∼62-mi)-wide late Cenozoic accretionary prism formed as the result of subduction of the Caribbean plate beneath the South American plate (Figure 1). The SCDB ranges in sedimentary thickness from 8 to 17 km (26,247 to 55,774 ft) (Flinch et al., 2003; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c). Changes in deformational style along the strike of the SCDB have been attributed to (1) differences in the structural regime from more convergent to the south to an increasing, left-lateral strike-slip component to the northeast and east (Duque-Caro, 1984; Ruiz et al., 2000; Kroehler et al., 2011); (2) differences in timing of deformation, with the most recent deformation found in the northeastern and eastern SCDB (Kroehler et al., 2011); and (3) compartmentalization of the SCDB by northwest–southeast-striking, transverse strike-slip faults (Vernette et al., 1992). Shortening across the area of the SCDB since the Miocene has been calculated to range from 15 to 30 km (9 to 19 mi) and has accompanied at least 100–150 km (62–93 mi) of subduction beneath northern Colombia (Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c).

Onshore intermontane basins in the Andean Mountains of northern Colombia show a complex history given by their proximity to the active subduction plate margin. The Cesar–Rancheria Basin of northern Colombia has a complex structural history reflecting Late Cretaceous to Holocene tectonic events along the plate margin (Sanchez and Mann, 2015). The Cesar–Rancheria Basin is located approximately 200 km (∼124 mi) to the southeast of the Caribbean–South American plate margin and is bounded by the Sierra de Santa Marta massif to the northwest and the Perija Range to the southeast (Figure 1). The Cesar–Rancheria Basin contains an approximately 7-km (∼22,966-ft)-thick clastic wedge developed on the southeastern flank of the Sierra de Santa Marta massif that records sub-Cretaceous continental, Cretaceous marine, and Cenozoic continental sedimentary deposits (Bayona et al., 2007; Ayala, 2009; Sanchez and Mann, 2015). The Cenozoic clastic wedge in the Cesar–Rancheria Basin indicates tilting and unroofing of the Sierra de Santa Marta massif by the Paleocene (Bayona et al., 2007) and has been linked to the collision and partial accretion of the Great Arc of the Caribbean with the continental margin of northwestern South America (Mann et al., 2006; Cardona et al., 2011a, b; Escalona and Mann, 2011). An accelerated pulse of uplift by late Miocene controlled the uplift and faulting in the eastern part of the basin and is related to the collision of the Panama arc with northwestern South America during the late Miocene (Sanchez and Mann, 2015).

METHODS USED IN THIS STUDY

In this study, we integrate interpretations of two-dimensional (2-D)–reflection seismic profiles tied to well data, modeling of potential fields data, structural analysis, and plate reconstructions. The objective of this study is to improve our understanding of different structural styles and deformational from different crustal provinces of the western Caribbean, their tectonic origin and plate tectonic evolution.

Potential Fields Analysis

We used a marine gravity anomaly grid from satellite altimeter profiles (Sandwell et al., 2014) and an Earth magnetic anomaly grid compiled from satellite, airborne, and marine measurements (Maus et al., 2009) to interpret regional crustal features in the western Caribbean region (Figure 2). The free-air gravity anomaly was processed in the Geosoft Oasis Montaj software to obtain the Bouguer anomaly after adding the Bouguer correction (using a density of 0.97 g/cm3). The total magnetic field was enhanced using the Geosoft Oasis Montaj software to calculate a reduced to the pole (RTP) grid using an average latitude of 15°N. The RTP grid displays the magnetic anomalies as if the western Caribbean study area were located at the geomagnetic pole (Baranov and Naudy, 1964). In the onshore area of northwestern South America, Bouguer anomaly and total magnetic field grids were kindly provided to us by Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos (ANH) of Colombia (Sanchez and Mann, 2015; Figure 2).

Figure 2. (A) Bouguer gravity anomaly of the western Caribbean Sea from Sandwell et al. (2014). (B) Total magnetic field from Maus et al. (2009). Both maps show major faults along boundaries of crustal provinces as described in this paper. White circles represent published seismic refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) and Garnier-Villarreal (2012). White squares show locations of published receiver function measurements from Poveda et al. (2015). Seismic sections shown in Figures 4B, 6B, 8B, 10B, and 12B are displayed in yellow; wells are shown as red dots. NPDB = north Panama deformed belt; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; SSMM = Sierra de Santa Marta massif.

The 2-D gravity and magnetic forward modeling were performed using seismic refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960), Edgar et al. (1971), and Garnier-Villarreal (2012); receiver functions in onshore areas from Niu et al. (2007) and Poveda et al. (2015); other regional studies from Case et al. (1990), Mauffret and Leroy (1997), and Emmet and Mann (2010); and our interpretations of seismic reflection data as constraints. Standard values of density and magnetic susceptibility (Lowrie, 2007) were assigned for different layers of the models.

Seismic and Well Data Interpretation

We used approximately 1600 km (∼994 mi) of 2-D seismic data along six profiles, which were kindly provided by Petroleum Geo-Services, Spectrum, ANH, and the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) or from previously published seismic reflection profiles. The seismic lines were interpreted in the software Petrel (Schlumberger) based on ties to eight wells (Figure 1) and previous seismic interpretations (Kolla et al., 1984; Bowland, 1993; Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Abrams and Hu, 2000; Rogers and Mann, 2007; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015b; Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2015; Sanchez and Mann, 2015; Sanchez et al., 2015), considering the main structural features that affect six stratigraphic successions (Cretaceous–sub-Cretaceous, Eocene–Paleocene, lower Miocene–Oligocene, upper Miocene, Pliocene–upper Miocene, Holocene–Pliocene) and the stratal relationship between seismic reflections such as onlaps, downlaps, and erosional truncations, which may indicate the dynamics of sediment supply, basin filling, and tectonic processes (Mitchum et al., 1977). For our well to seismic ties, we used available time–depth curves from checkshots and constructed synthetic seismograms (Figure 3). Well information, such as electrical logs, biostratigraphy, and lithological descriptions, was also useful for our interpretations (Abrams and Hu, 2000; P. Emmet, 2013, personal communication; H. Aves and R. Manton, 2014, personal communication). We created a simple velocity model along the interpreted seismic profiles using the well-seismic ties to convert the seismic reflection from two-way time (TWT) to depth in meters.

bwdfabzyuadftwyzbwrcexbsvdzxbrassrcqurFigure 3. Wells used to correlate and constrain interpretations of the seismic, gravity, and magnetic sections shown in Figures 1 and 2. Each well shows its time–depth correlation, a gamma-ray (GR) log, a seismic display taken from the closest seismic profile, a synthetic seismogram, and lithologies (Litho) of the well units. Tops of the different packages in the well logs indicate their ages and are interpreted from seismic profiles shown in Figures 4–13. The seismic line correlated with well ODP-999 is taken from Abrams and Hu (2000). SSTVT = true stratigraphic thickness (subsea) in meters; TWT = two-way time in milliseconds.

Structural Modeling

A regional structural cross section in depth was constructed for each seismic profile interpretation. Simple decompaction to remove the effect of the overburden compaction was carried out using the Move software developed by Midland Valley. It uses the equation f = f0(ecy), from Sclater and Christie (1980), where f is the present-day porosity, f0 is the porosity at the surface, c is the depth–porosity coefficient (kilometers−1), and y is depth (meters). We considered values of 49% and 52% for initial porosity of predominantly clastic and carbonate units, respectively, and depth–porosity coefficients of 0.27 and 0.50 for sandy and shaly rocks, respectively (Sclater and Christie, 1980; Allen and Allen, 2013). Assuming plane-strain conditions (Dahlstrom, 1969), we estimated the amount of deformation of 2-D cross sections in different stages by applying the fault-parallel flow algorithm to restore the dip-slip motion of faults and the flexural-slip unfolding algorithm to restore folds using the Move software.

Plate Reconstruction and Integration

To visualize and better quantify the relationship between plate tectonic predictions and our observation compiled along the transect, we used PaleoGIS software from the Rothwell Group and modified the UTIG PLATES tectonic model from Escalona and Norton (2015) for the Caribbean region. Based on the plate reconstruction and the calculated deformation along the interpreted sections, we calculated percentages of deformation parallel to the instantaneous plate motion direction and parallel to plate margins and the edges of major crustal province boundaries for key geologic periods. The plate model provides an estimate of the observed strike-slip components calculated along the different sections (Figure 1).

STRUCTURAL CONFIGURATION

Honduran Borderlands and Northern Nicaraguan Rise

In the Honduran borderlands and the northwesternmost part of the northern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 1), 2-D gravity and magnetic models that are collinear with seismic profiles (A and B) show free-air gravity anomalies ranging from 0 to 50 mGal. Magnetic anomalies appear relatively uniform in the Honduran borderlands and western Nicaraguan Rise, showing values between −70 and 0 nT (Figure 4A). Deep reflections on the seismic profile (Figure 4B) are associated with the Moho discontinuity (Emmet and Mann, 2010) and are used as constraint for the gravity and magnetic modeling in this area. In the Cayman Trough in the northern part of the study area (Figure 4A), the crustal thickness is approximately 6 km (∼19,685 ft) as constrained by a gravity study from ten Brink et al. (2002). A seismic profile (Figure 4B) is correlated with ages of Cenozoic units known from the Main Cape-1 well (Figure 3,4B). Recent folding and faulting of the sea floor is observed in the Honduran borderlands, and growth strata and onlap terminations are present within the Pliocene–upper Miocene sedimentary section (Figure 5A). In contrast, the northwestern Nicaraguan Rise shows little to no recent deformation of the sea floor. Instead, the northwestern Nicaraguan Rise shows onlap stratal terminations of Eocene–Paleocene rocks overlying a top Cretaceous unconformity with stratal truncations defining an unconformity at the top of the Miocene (Figures 4B; 5B, C).

Figure 4. (A) Section A crossing the Honduran borderlands and western Nicaraguan Rise (see Figure 1 for location) shows the crustal structure based on gravity and magnetic modeling. A projected seismic refraction measurement from Ewing et al. (1960) and a deep reflection associated with the Moho (Emmet and Mann, 2010) are used as constraints for gravity and magnetic modeling. The dashed box indicates the location of the seismic profile shown in (B). (B) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profile for section A. Section A includes the Main Cape-1 well that was used to constrain the seismic interpretation and is shown in Figure 3. ρ = density; CT = Cayman Trough; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; SIFZ = Swan Islands faults zone; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

In the southeastern Nicaraguan Rise, the free-air gravity profile indicates a range from 0 to 40 mGal, and the magnetic field shows values between −60 and 130 nT (Figure 6A). The Bouguer anomaly grid shows a decrease from the Honduran borderlands to the Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 2A), and the total magnetic field illustrates higher values in the southeastern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 2B). Crustal thickness values of approximately 20–30 km (∼65,617–98,425 ft) have been previously reported in the area of Honduran borderlands and Nicaraguan Rise (Ewing et al., 1960; Case et al., 1990; Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Garnier-Villarreal, 2012). A seismic profile across the eastern part of the Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 6B) can be correlated with ages of units in the Diamante-1 and Miskito-1 wells (Figure 3). The profile shows undeformed sequences with minor normal faults and a general southward thickening of Pliocene–upper Miocene clastic growth strata and stratal truncations against an unconformity at the top of this package (Figures 6B; 7A, B). A proposed shale diapir deforms the Pliocene–upper Miocene section (Figure 7B).

Figure 5. Zooms to illustrate the details of the regional seismic line shown in Figure 4B (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 4B). (A) Individual fault-bounded transtensional basins within the Honduran borderlands show syntectonic control on their deposition. (B) Basement high along the western flank of the Nicaraguan Rise showing thickness changes in the upper Miocene and Eocene sequences that are controlled by transtensional deformation along the western Nicaraguan Rise. (C) Thickening in the Eocene sequence and formation of an unfaulted sag basin is attributed to postcollisional relaxation. TWT = two-way time.

Interpretation

Results of gravity and magnetic modeling in the western Nicaraguan Rise show an approximately 15-km (∼49,213-ft)-thick continental crust. A fault abruptly separates this area of the Nicaraguan Rise from the approximately 6–8-km (∼19,685–26,247-ft)-thick oceanic crust in the Cayman Trough (Figure 4A). In the eastern part of the Nicaraguan Rise, approximately 20–25-km (∼65,617–82,021-ft)-thick continental crust (Figure 6A) is in contact with a denser, arc-type crust. This contrast is related to the offshore extension of the onshore fault boundary in Nicaragua and Honduras that separates the continental Chortis block and the Siuna terrane (Rogers et al., 2007a). Depth to the basement in the Cayman Trough is approximately 4–5 km (∼13,123–16,404 ft) and increases to the east to approximately 6–7 km (∼19,685–22,966 ft) in the Honduran borderlands and approximately 8–10 km (∼26,247–32,808 ft) in the Nicaraguan Rise (Figures 4A, 6A).

Figure 6. Section B along the Nicaraguan Rise (see Figure 1 for location). (A) Gravity and magnetic modeling along section B show the crustal structure across the proposed crustal boundary separating the continental crust of the Chortis block from the island-arc crust of the Siuna terrane. Seismic refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) and Garnier-Villarreal (2012) are projected onto the northern and central parts of the profile, respectively. The dashed box indicates the location of the seismic profile in (B). (B) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profile. Miskito-1 well is tied to the seismic interpretation shown in Figure 3. ρ = density; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

The Paleocene section on the Nicaraguan Rise was deposited above an unconformity recording a major Late Cretaceous uplift event related to the collision between the Chortis block and the Great Arc of the Caribbean (Sanchez et al., 2015; Figure 5B). Thick-skinned, basement-offsetting faults are interpreted as thrust faults (Figure 4B) formed during the Late Cretaceous uplift event and correlative with the on-land Colon fold-thrust belt of eastern Honduras (Rogers et al., 2007b; Sanchez et al., 2015; Figure 1). These thrust faults were reactivated in the Eocene to Holocene as transtensional faults, especially within the Honduran borderlands adjacent to the Cayman Trough (Figure 1).

Figure 7. Zooms to illustrate the details of the regional seismic line shown in Figure 6B (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 6B). (A) Thickness changes in the Pliocene–upper Miocene section on the eastern flank of the Nicaraguan Rise (NR). (B) Normal faulting and development of syntectonic, sedimentary strata in the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence of the eastern NR that is accompanied by inferred shale diapirism. (C) Unconformity at top of Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence is overlain by onlap stratal terminations and underlain by strata truncations. In the Eocene–Paleocene sequence, higher-reflectivity and mounded geometries may indicate the presence of carbonate reefs. TWT = two-way time.

A Pliocene–late Miocene extensional episode controlled the deposition of a thick syntectonic sequence in the Honduran borderlands (Sanchez et al., 2015; Figures 4B, 5A). In the eastern part of the Nicaraguan Rise, the thickness of the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence, beyond the platform edge, may be related to a high sediment supply in a deepening basin toward the south and/or normal faulting associated with the vicinity of the San Andres rift (Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2013), where some erosion may have removed the tops of tilted fault blocks (Figures 6B; 7A, B).

Southern Nicaraguan Rise

The Bouguer gravity anomaly of the southern Nicaraguan Rise shows intermediate values that increase southward of the HFZ and into the Colombian Basin (Figure 2A). The total magnetic field map displays a shorter wavelength in comparison with the northern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 2B). Gravity and magnetic modeling along seismic profile C (Figure 1) display a signature of the free-air gravity anomaly ranging from −10 to 80 mGal (Figure 8A) and a magnetic field anomaly profile with values between −50 and 80 nT, with a significant magnetic anomaly high located in the center of the profile (Figure 8A).

Figure 8. Section C along the Southern Nicaraguan Rise (see Figure 1 for location). (A) Gravity and magnetic modeling show the crustal structure underlying this transect. Seismic reflector for the top basement surface and projected refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) are used as constraints for the modeling. The dashed box indicates the location of the seismic profile in (B). (B) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profile. Well ODP-999 shown in Figure 3 was used in the interpretation and is tied to the seismic profile. ρ = density; CLIP = Caribbean large igneous province; HFZ = Hess fault zone; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

The northwestern part of the seismic profile crosses the southern Nicaraguan Rise, and the southeastern part of this profile crosses the western Colombian Basin (Figure 8B). The seismic line is tied to the ODP-999 well in the Colombian Basin (Figure 3, 9C). Thickness changes within the Cenozoic sequences and normal faults are common along the seismic profile with onlap and downlap stratal terminations—especially within the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence (Figure 8B).

Figure 9. Zooms to illustrate the details of the regional seismic line shown in Figure 8B (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 8B). (A) Basement highs in the southern Nicaraguan Rise are associated with a possible volcanic center. (B) Expression of the Hess fault zone (HFZ) shows an eroded sea-floor escarpment (northwest side up) and possible volcanic feature that formed since the Eocene–Paleocene. (C) The Kogi rise is underlain by westward-dipping intrabasement reflectors overlain by an Upper Cretaceous to Cenozoic section drilled by the ODP-999 well. TWT = two-way time.

In general, structural highs show stratal wedging of clastic growth strata (Figure 9A, B). The HFZ, which forms a major linear bathymetric escarpment and gravimetric lineament (Figures 1, 2A) appears as a subvertical fault zone on the seismic profile (Figures 8B, 9B) and is associated with growth strata of Paleocene–Eocene and younger sequences (Figure 9B).

The western Colombia Basin seen on the easternmost part of the seismic profile includes a bathymetric high called the Kogi rise (Abrams and Hu, 2000; Figure 1). Thinning in the Cretaceous and Eocene–Paleocene sequences is observed at the top of this high, and Eocene–Paleocene growth strata are present along its western flank (Figure 9A). The Kogi rise exhibits westward-dipping, intrabasement reflectors.

Interpretation

Pliocene–upper Miocene thickness changes show syntectonic control associated with normal faults. The formation of basement highs during the Paleocene to Holocene affected the deposition of sediments; currently, these highs form bathymetric elevations. Characteristic cone shapes suggest the presence of volcanic centers active since the Cretaceous and show episodic growth through the Cenozoic (Carvajal-Arenas and Mann, 2018; Figure 9A).

The HFZ forms an elongate, bathymetric high, as described by Mauffret and Leroy (1997) to the north of this profile (Figure 9C). These authors did not find evidence of Cenozoic fault activity in this locality, in contrast to Bowland (1993), who used UTIG seismic profiles—farther south of our profile—to present evidence for recent geologic deformation along this seismically active segment of the HFZ. Given the presence of a conical geometry of high amplitude in its top and no internal reflections, volcanism may have been associated with the HFZ (Figure 9B).

Reflectors within the basement (Figure 8B) are interpreted as different volcanic centers associated with the CLIP, rather than seaward-dipping reflectors (Mutter et al., 1982). These types of reflectors have been widely reported in the Caribbean region (Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2013; Ott, 2015). A deep reflector into the basement (7–8.5 s TWT) in the seismic profile may image the base of the CLIP (Figure 8B).

The presence of growth strata suggests an uplift event of the Kogi rise by the Eocene–Paleocene with recent uplift of this basement high also supported by the absence of the Holocene–Pliocene strata at the top of the high (Figure 9C). Results of the gravity and magnetic modeling show an approximately 15–20-km (∼49,213–65,617-ft)-thick Caribbean oceanic plateau crust that exhibits southeastward crustal thinning. The depth to basement has been proposed by several authors in the western Caribbean (Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Garnier-Villarreal, 2012; Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2013; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c) with less than 5 km (16,404 ft) of overlying sedimentary section, which is in good agreement with the higher magnetic field wavelength in the southern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 2B).

Colombian Basin

Gravity and magnetic modeling along this section display a higher free-air gravity anomaly in the central part (∼20 mGal) and lower gravity values to the east (∼−80 mGal) of the profile (Figure 10A). The Bouguer anomaly (Figure 2A) also shows higher values in the western Colombian Basin, which are associated with a decrease in crustal thickness of approximately 15 km (∼49,213 ft) constrained with refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) and a seismic regional study from Mauffret and Leroy (1997). The total magnetic field displays a range from −170 to 50 nT (Figure 10A).

Figure 10. Section D along the Colombian Basin (see Figure 1 for location). (A) Gravity and magnetic modeling show the crustal structure of the Colombian Basin. Projected seismic refraction data from Ewing et al. (1960) are used as constraint of crustal thickness, and the seismic profile is used as control of the depth to the top basement. The dashed box indicates the location of the seismic profile (B). (B) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profile. ρ = density; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

A seismic profile with a northwest–southeast trend (section D) across the Colombian Basin (Figure 1) displays a gently westward-sloping sea floor in approximately 2500 to 3900 m (∼8202 to 12,795 ft) water depth. In the westernmost part, a slight bathymetric high is expressed in the basement that also displays intrabasement, eastward-dipping reflectors (Figure 11A). Onlap stratal terminations of the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence occur against highs in the western, central, and eastern parts of the Colombian Basin (Figures 10B, 11B). The southeastern end of the seismic profile shows an abrupt eastern thickening of the upper Miocene sequence (Figures 10B, 11C) and onlap stratal terminations toward the west.

Interpretation

An approximately 15–20-km (∼49,213–65,617-ft)-thick crust associated with the CLIP—which is thinner toward the center of the profile—corresponds to the observed positive gravity anomaly (Figures 2A, 10A). The increase in magnetic wavelength (Figure 2B) may represent eastward thickening in the sedimentary cover, from approximately 5 km (∼16,404 ft) to approximately 15 km (∼49,213 ft) (Bowland, 1993; Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c).

Figure 11. Zooms to illustrate the details of the regional seismic line shown in Figure 10B (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 10B). (A) Eastward thickening of the Pliocene–upper Miocene section produces onlap strata terminations that overlie the upper Miocene section. Eastward-dipping reflectors are present within the basement. (B) Pliocene–upper Miocene thicknesses vary along onlap stratal terminations and likely record normal growth faulting. The upper Miocene sequence shows an antiformal geometry cored by basement. (C) Thickening of the Miocene strata indicating downward flexure of the Caribbean large igneous province basement during its subduction beneath northwestern South America. TWT = two-way time.

The conspicuous onlapping stratal terminations within the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence indicate a process of subsidence and basin filling resulting from high sediment supply in the tectonically quiescent area of the distal Magdalena submarine fan (Kolla et al., 1984; Romero-Otero, 2009; Leslie and Mann, 2016; Figure 1). This sedimentation continued during the Pliocene to Holocene with major supply from South America and growth of the SCDB, because it displays tilting and deformation of Pliocene–Holocene strata to the southeast and the formation of thick and extensive mass transport complexes extending outward onto the Magdalena fan (Leslie and Mann, 2016; Figure 11C). The northwestern boundary of the Colombian Basin also shows young deformation of Pliocene–Holocene strata (Figure 11A). An increase in thickness of the upper Miocene interval and onlap terminations in the southeast of the profile would represent the record of the load provided by the SCDB and flexure produced on the Caribbean basement (Figure 11C).

Widespread folding in the upper Miocene interval is present on the central part of the profile (Figure 11B), reflecting a combination of (1) active uplift following the deposition of these strata that could involve the basement and (2) higher sedimentation rates. The presence of Cretaceous strata is very localized in some areas along the seismic profile and indicates restricted areas of sedimentation during the Cretaceous within basement lows (Kroehler et al., 2011). The different attitude of basement-dipping reflectors may represent the existence of several magmatic centers in the basement (Hoernle et al., 2004; Ott, 2015) related to the development and growth of the CLIP by the Late Cretaceous.

South Caribbean Deformed Belt

A regional gravity and magnetic model along the northern margin of South America (Figure 12A) shows a major gravity anomaly in the central part of the profile and lows in the northwest and southeast with values ranging between −100 and 180 mGal. The total magnetic field profile (Figure 12A) presents values from −200 to 50 nT. The Bouguer anomaly map indicates a gravity low (Figure 2A) in the position of the SCDB and a conspicuous boundary with the Colombian Basin province that may be related to the increase of sedimentary thickness because of the higher sedimentary supply from the continent (Flinch et al., 2003; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c; Leslie and Mann, 2016).

Figure 12. Sections E and F along the south Caribbean deformed belt (SCDB) and the onshore Cesar–Rancheria Basin (CRB) of northern Colombia (see Figure 1 for location). (A) Gravity and magnetic modeling show the crustal provinces underlying the transect across northwestern South America. The Caribbean large igneous province subducts at a low angle beneath the continental plate of northwestern South America in Colombia. Moho depth from projected seismic refraction data is from Ewing et al. (1960), and our seismic profiles constrain the depth to Moho and top basement, respectively, in the offshore areas. Crustal thicknesses from receiver functions are used to calibrate the onshore Moho depth (Poveda et al., 2015). The dashed boxes show the locations of the seismic profiles (B) and (C) that were used in the transect. (B, C) Uninterpreted and interpreted versions of the seismic profiles crossing (B) the SCDB and (C) the CRB. Wells Cesar H-1X and El Paso-3 are used to constrain the seismic profile through the CRB. ρ = density; CB = Colombian Basin; mag. sus. = magnetic susceptibility; SSMM = Sierra de Santa Marta massif; TWT = two-way time; VE = vertical exaggeration.

A seismic profile along the SCDB shows bathymetric shallowing in an eastward direction from approximately 3000 m (∼9843 ft) to 100 m (328 ft) (Figure 1). This north-northwest–south-southeast profile is located to the northwest of the Sierra de Santa Marta massif (Figure 1). Subhorizontal and uniform reflectors are observed in the northwestern part of the profile. Toward the southeast, the sea bottom is folded, and its relief increases (Figures 12B, 13A); this area corresponds to the westernmost part of the SCDB. An exploration well (Cartagena-3) (Figures 1, 3) located near this profile allows interpretations of approximate ages for the interpreted sequences.

Figure 13. Areas of zooms of seismic lines shown in Figure 12B, C (key to colors of lithologic units is shown in Figure 12B). (A) Frontal part of the south Caribbean deformed belt is a westward-vergent accretionary prism with associated shale diapirism. (B) Thickness changes, syntectonic strata, and local areas of normal faulting deforming the Pliocene sequences all accompany post-Pliocene shortening. (C) Unconformity at the base of the lower Miocene–Oligocene sequence truncates convergent structures in the Cretaceous and sub-Cretaceous sequences. TWT = two-way time.

We divide the Holocene–Pliocene sequence into two packages to map their lateral thickness variations (Figure 12B). The upper package shows a pattern of abrupt thickening to the southeast likely controlled by accommodation space generated by normal faults (Figure 13B). The lower package also shows thickness changes, stratal truncations, and onlaps. In some areas, the thicker parts of one package correspond to the thinner parts of the other.

The Pliocene–upper Miocene and upper Miocene sequence are affected by faulting and folding in the SCDB and show more thickness changes, especially in the fold axes (Figures 12B; 13A, B).

Interpretation

The 2-D gravity and magnetic modeling indicate different provinces (Figure 12A): (1) the SCDB with great thickness of sedimentary section (∼18 km [∼59,055 ft]) overlying an approximately 9–10-km (∼29,528–32,808-ft)-thick oceanic CLIP and (2) the Sierra de Santa Marta massif, which corresponds to a basement high with approximately 25-km (∼82,021-ft)-thick continental crust overthrusting the Caribbean subducted slab that shows an estimated subduction angle of approximately 15°–20°.

Vertical areas of low reflectivity (blue polygons in the interpreted profile of Figures 12B, 13A) are interpreted as actively intruding shale diapirs. The SCDB is a westward-verging thrust-fold belt showing mainly diapir-controlled folding rather than thrust-fault–related folding. Thickness changes in the Pliocene–Holocene sequence imply a syntectonic event that included faulting and uplift, as shown by the presence of onlap terminations.

Thinning across the crests of anticlines in the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence suggest that by this time faulting and folding occurred at the most frontal part of the SCDB. The upper Miocene interval represents a pretectonic stage because it shows uniform thickness, whereas the thickness change in the lower Miocene–Oligocene sequence may be associated with mud mobilization that is feeding the observed diapirs. A regional detachment level for the thrust belt is interpreted along the base of this sequence (Figure 12B).

Onshore Cesar–Rancheria Basin of Northern Colombia

The gravity anomaly and magnetic field profiles (Figure 12A) for the onshore Cesar–Rancheria Basin show a general decrease from west to east with values of approximately 70 mGal and approximately 100 nT, respectively. A northwest–southeast seismic profile along the Cesar–Rancheria Basin (Figure 1) displays a high-reflectivity lower Cretaceous package with fairly homogeneous thickness (dark green polygon in the seismic interpretation of Figure 12C). This package is truncated to the west beneath Cenozoic strata (Figure 13C). A wide and almost symmetrical syncline exists in the eastern part of the profile.

In general, eastward-dipping reverse faulting is dominant and currently active in the western foothills of the Perija Range (Ayala, 2009; Bayona et al., 2011; Sanchez and Mann, 2015). A Holocene–Pliocene sequence unconformably overlies older structures, and this section is present along the entire profile. The upper Miocene strata appear preserved in the western profile, whereas the Eocene–Paleocene interval is preserved along the axis of the syncline at the eastern end of the profile. The Upper Cretaceous sequence (light green polygon in the seismic interpretation of Figures 12C, 13C) is also truncated beneath an unconformity in several areas of the profile.

Interpretation

The gravity and magnetic modeling (Figure 12A) indicate an eastward deepening of the basement from approximately 5 to 10 km (∼16,404 to 32,808 ft) in the onshore area along the Cesar–Rancheria and the Maracaibo Basins. The crustal thickness shows an average of approximately 30 km (∼98,425 ft) in this area. The onshore part of this model (Figure 12A) was constrained with published depth to basement information (Feo-Codecido et al., 1984; Lugo and Mann, 1995) and depth to Moho estimates from receiver functions (Niu et al., 2007; Poveda et al., 2015).

Figure 14. Structural and plate kinematic reconstruction for the Cretaceous. Restored sections at top of the Upper Cretaceous for the (A) western Nicaraguan Rise (NR) and Honduran borderlands (HB), (B) eastern NR, (C) southern NR and western Colombian Basin (CB), (D) CB, and (E) Cesar–Rancheria Basin (section E is not included). (F) Plate reconstruction of the western Caribbean at 70 Ma from Escalona and Norton (2015); the map is displayed in the Universal Transverse Mercator 17N projection. CA = Central Atlantic; CAA = Central American arc; CH = Chortis block; CLIP = Caribbean large igneous province; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; HFZ = Hess fault zone; LIP = large igneous province; NAP = North American plate; OCS = oceanic crust to be subducted; SAP = South American plate; ST = Siuna terrane; YB = Yucatan block.

Considerable gaps in stratigraphy in the Cesar–Rancheria Basin indicate intense and multiple deformation and uplift events (Sanchez and Mann, 2015). The absence of Eocene–Paleocene rocks in the western part indicates a higher uplift in this area compared with the east. Most of the upper Miocene interval is preserved to the west, suggesting a later uplift event controlled by west-verging faulting that was more dominant in the eastern part of the basin.

KINEMATICS OF MAJOR FAULTS OBSERVED ALONG THE TRANSECT

Five stages of the structural evolution for the different sections of the transect and their regional plate reconstruction and context based on the modified plate reconstructions of Escalona and Norton (2015) are proposed and discussed in this section.

Late Cretaceous

In the Honduran borderlands and western Nicaraguan Rise, a regional unconformity with stratigraphic truncations suggests uplift, exposure, and erosion of part of the Cretaceous strata during a previous deformational event (Figure 14A). Some normal fault displacement observed in the restored section could represent an extensional phase of Late Cretaceous age (Table 1). The plate reconstruction at circa 70 Ma (Late Cretaceous) shows the period after the collision between the continental Chortis block and the island-arc–type crust of the Siuna terrane (Figure 14F), where extensional collapse or thrust relaxation characteristic of late orogenic periods in other areas like the Caledonian orogeny of Norway can be seen in the profile across the Honduran borderlands and western Nicaraguan Rise (Séguret et al., 1989; Osmundsen and Andersen, 2001). The restored section in the Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 14B) shows little previous deformation by the Late Cretaceous in comparison with the section in the southern Nicaraguan Rise, which shows previous normal faulting and stratal truncations (Figure 14C).

In the plate reconstruction (Figure 14F), the section across the Nicaraguan Rise following the Chortis–Siuna collision may have remained more stable and less deformed than the adjacent CLIP (Figure 14F), with the southern Nicaraguan Rise affected by strike-slip and possible transtensional deformation. The Colombian Basin shows a thin Upper Cretaceous sedimentary cover (Table 2) across its western part (Figure 14D) and displays onlap and stratal terminations against the top of the CLIP basement, denoting sediment filling of a paleotopography during the Late Cretaceous where the eastern part of the section may have been higher.

Along the margin of northern South America, Late Cretaceous shelf and slope environments existed along a north-facing passive margin (Escalona and Mann, 2011) prior to the onset of its collision with the Great Arc of the Caribbean (Figure 14F). In this quiescent and precollisional passive margin tectonic setting, little deformation affected the onshore intermontane Cesar–Rancheria Basin (Figure 14E).

Eocene

Deposition of approximately 3 km (∼9843 ft) of Eocene–Paleocene strata in the western Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 15A; Table 2) documents higher subsidence in the area (Figure 16D), possibly controlled by postorogenic collapse or intracontinental extensional faulting in the basement (Sengor, 1995; Osmundsen and Andersen, 2001; Allen and Allen, 2013). Syntectonic rift deposition in the Honduran borderlands indicates an active extensional phase by this time, possibly related to transtension during the opening of the Cayman Trough to the northwest (Rosencrantz et al., 1988; Leroy et al., 2000; Sanchez et al., 2015; Figure 1). Truncations at the top of this interval (Figure 4B) represent exposure, erosion, and possible uplift after the deposition of this sequence (Table 1).

Figure 15. Structural and plate kinematic reconstruction for the Eocene. Restored sections at top of the Eocene for the (A) western Nicaraguan Rise (NR) and Honduran borderlands, (B) eastern NR, (C) southern NR and western Colombian Basin (CB), (D) CB, (E) eastern CB, and (F) Cesar–Rancheria Basin. (G) Plate reconstruction at 38 Ma from Escalona and Norton (2015) indicates proposed plate boundaries and blocks of the Caribbean region and the position of these stratigraphic sections at this time; the map is displayed in the Universal Transverse Mercator 17N projection. CA = Central Atlantic; CAA = Central American arc; CH = Chortis block; CLIP = Caribbean large igneous province; CT = Cayman Trough; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; HFZ = Hess fault zone; LIP = large igneous province; NAP = North American plate; OCS = oceanic crust subducted; SAP = South American plate; ST = Siuna terrane; YB = Yucatan block.

In the eastern part of the Nicaraguan Rise, a thinning of the Eocene–Paleocene interval at the edge of the platform (Figure 15B) documents lower subsidence (Figure 16E) than on the central Nicaraguan Rise. The plate reconstruction by circa 38 Ma (late Eocene) (Figure 15G) shows how the Honduran borderlands could be affected by the translation and rotation of the Chortis block that would first induce a transtensional regime, followed by a transpressional regime. In contrast, the Nicaraguan Rise province orogenic relaxation occurs following the Late Cretaceous Chortis block and Siuna terrane collision (Sanchez et al., 2015).

Figure 16. Burial plots for representative and well-constrained points along the different transects based on the seismic interpretation and decompacted thicknesses and without considering any unrecognized subsidence and erosional events. The burial of the top Cretaceous is shown for the Honduran borderlands and Nicaraguan Rise (sections A–C). Burial of the Caribbean large igneous province basement is displayed for the Colombian Basin and south Caribbean deformed belt (sections D and E). Burial of top Jurassic is shown for the Cesar–Rancheria Basin (section F). CT = Cayman Trough; HFZ = Hess fault zone; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt.

In the southern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 1), minor normal faulting took place along with local uplifts associated with the development of volcanism and the growth of the Kogi rise (Figure 15C). A basement uplift in the Colombian Basin localized the minor thickness of the Eocene–Paleocene sequence to the center of the basin (Figures 15D, 16J; Table 2), whereas higher subsidence and accommodation space existed in the northwest and southeast of the basin (Figures 15D, E; 16I). Along the on-land continental margin of South America (Figure 15F), sedimentary basins showed active Eocene–Paleocene deposition in a transitional environment (Ayala et al., 2012), and higher subsidence during this period (Figure 16N, O).

Initial uplift of the margins of the Cesar–Rancheria Basin occurred by the late Eocene (Bayona et al., 2007). The plate reconstruction (Figure 15G) at 38 Ma shows an arc-continental collision between the northern margin of the South American plate and the Caribbean arc and the initiation of eastward subduction of the CLIP. This subduction led to the convergent deformation and uplift in northern South America and possibly the flexure of the eastern Colombian Basin (Figures 10B, 11C, 16K).

During the Eocene, the Chortis block and the accreted Siuna terrane exhibited a counterclockwise rotation that increased the strike-slip component along the northern margin of the Chortis block, which corresponds to the Swan Islands fault zone (SIFZ), and the southeastern margin of the Siuna terrane, which corresponds to the PBFZ (areas 1 and 2 in Figure 17). The component of strike-slip displacement along the SIFZ is predicted to be twice the amount of deformation along section A for the late Eocene (Figure 17C). In the southern Nicaraguan Rise, which overlies the western CLIP, the direction of plate motion during the Late Cretaceous–early Eocene was almost parallel to the PBFZ, which forms the western margin of the CLIP. During this period, deformation parallel to the PBFZ was several times higher than the extension calculated for section C (area 3 in Figure 17A). During the middle and late Eocene, the plate motion of the CLIP became more orthogonal to its western margin (PBFZ), and the strike-slip component of deformation may have been similar that the dip-slip component (area 3 in Figure 17B, C).

Figure 17. Quantitative estimates for the deformational components parallel to the direction of plate motion and parallel to the margins of the main crustal provinces during three Eocene–Paleocene stages. The maps in (A)–(C) illustrate our proposed plate configurations for these stages according to the plate reconstruction of Escalona and Norton (2015) (small arrows and numbers in the plate reconstruction indicate the direction of instantaneous plate motion and plate velocity in centimeters per year). Three areas are analyzed and represented by the numbered boxes: (1) the north–northwestern margin of the Chortis block (CH) corresponding to the Swan Islands fault zone (SIFZ), (2) the southeastern margin of the Siuna terrane (ST) corresponding to the Pedro Bank fault zone (PBFZ), and (3) the northwestern margin of the Caribbean large igneous province (CLIP) corresponding to the PBFZ. The charts compare the percentage of extension calculated along each of the transects (Figures 4, 6>, 8) with the projected percentage of motion parallel to the plate/crustal province margins. Zooms of the boxes show the relationship and angles characterizing the extensional component along the sections (black line), the main plate direction of motion (red arrow), and the projected component of motion along plate or province margins (dark-blue arrow). See legend of the plate reconstructions in Figure 15. CAA = Central American arc; CT = Cayman Trough; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; MFZ = Motagua fault zone; NAP = North American plate; OCS = oceanic crust to be subducted; SAP = South American plate; YB = Yucatan block.

Early Miocene

This period of transtension in the Honduran borderlands shows few faults with significant throw (Rogers and Mann, 2007; Sanchez et al., 2015; Figure 18A). The central part of the Nicaraguan Rise continued to subside (Figures 16D, E; 18A, B) and received a major thickness of the lower Miocene–Oligocene sequence (Table 2) in comparison with its margins. Onlap termination occurred against some of the underlying Eocene–Paleocene packages (Figures 6B, 7C, 18B).

Figure 18. Structural and plate kinematic reconstruction for the early Miocene (23 Ma). Restored sections at top of the lower Miocene for the (A) western Nicaraguan Rise (NR) and Honduran borderlands, (B) eastern NR, (C) southern NR and western Colombian Basin (CB), (D) CB, (E) eastern CB, and (F) Cesar–Rancheria Basin (CRB). (G) Plate reconstruction of the western Caribbean at 23 Ma from Escalona and Norton (2015); the map is displayed in the Universal Transverse Mercator 17N projection. CA = Central Atlantic; CAA = Central American arc; CH = Chortis block; CLIP = Caribbean large igneous province; CT = Cayman Trough; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; HFZ = Hess fault zone; LIP = large igneous province; NAP = North American plate; OCS = oceanic crust now subducted; SAP = South American plate; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; SIFZ = Swan Islands fault zone; ST = Siuna terrane; YB = Yucatan block.

The southern Nicaraguan Rise shows locally uplifted areas associated with active volcanism or basement deformation (Figure 18C). One of these volcanic centers is observed along the HFZ (Figures 8B, 9B, 18C), which may indicate possible active faulting and associated magmatism. The Kogi rise located in the western Colombian Basin (Figures 8B, 9C, 18C) does not show tectonic activity during this period (Table 1). The plate reconstruction by circa 23 Ma (early Miocene) shows a general eastward translation of the Caribbean plate (Figure 18G) compared with the previous Eocene stage. The Nicaraguan Rise and southern Nicaraguan Rise show a general quiescence in this intraplate region compared with the Honduran borderlands region, which is affected by deformation that occurred along the western Caribbean margin.

The Colombian Basin is an area with little lower Miocene–Oligocene sediment accommodation (Figure 18D; Table 2), except for its eastern margin where continued subsidence (Figure 16K) is related to the load of the overriding South American plate (Figure 18D, E, G). The continued subduction of the CLIP beneath South America induced a strong uplift episode and erosion of the Eocene–Paleocene interval near this convergent margin (Figures 16N; 18F, G).

Late Miocene

Accelerated subsidence was controlled by rifting in the Honduran borderlands (Figure 16B; Table 1) and resulted in the deposition of thick upper Miocene strata (Figure 19A), which contrasts with thinner sequences on the Nicaraguan Rise and southern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 19B, C; Table 2) where the deposition of these sequences was not affected by major deformation.

Figure 19. Structural and plate kinematic reconstruction for the late Miocene (6 Ma). Restored sections at top of the upper Miocene for the (A) western Nicaraguan Rise (NR) and Honduran borderlands, (B) eastern NR, (C) southern NR and western Colombian Basin (CB), (D) CB, (E) eastern CB, and (F) Cesar–Rancheria Basin (CRB). (G) Plate reconstruction of the western Caribbean at 6 Ma from Escalona and Norton (2015); the map is displayed in the Universal Transverse Mercator 17N projection. CA = Central Atlantic; CAA = Central American arc; CH = Chortis block; CLIP = Caribbean large igneous province; CP = Cocos plate; CR = Cocos Ridge; CT = Cayman Trough; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; HFZ = Hess fault zone; LIP = large igneous province; NAP = North American plate; NP = Nazca plate; NPDB = north Panama deformed belt; OCS = oceanic crust to be subducted; PA = Panama arc; SAP = South American plate; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; SIFZ = Swan Islands fault zone; ST = Siuna terrane; YB = Yucatan block.

Continued activity on the HFZ produced growth strata in this interval (Figures 8B, 9B). The plate reconstruction by circa 6 Ma (late Miocene) suggests that the Honduran borderlands was affected by extension controlled by strike-slip and transtensional motion along the Cayman Trough margins (Figure 19G).

The Colombian Basin shows thicker upper Miocene sediment accumulation compared with its older sequences (Figure 19D; Table 2). This large sediment thickness may be related to the high sediment supply (∼25 m/m.y.) produced by the development of the Magdalena submarine fan derived from northern South America (Kolla et al., 1984; Romero-Otero, 2009; Leslie and Mann, 2016). Some syndepositional normal faulting and growth faults are restricted to the upper Miocene strata in the Colombian Basin, possibly produced by the high sedimentation rate. Thickening of this sequence to the east is associated with the widening of the accretionary prism of the SCDB, as a result of higher deformation and increased sediment supply (Figure 19E).

Northern South America underwent regional convergence (Figure 19F) related to the west-to-east migration and oblique collision of the Great Arc of the Caribbean (Parra et al., 2009; Mora et al., 2010, 2013; Sanchez and Mann, 2015). Our plate reconstruction shows the areal development of accretionary prisms constituting the SCDB and the north Panama deformed belt because of shallow subduction of the CLIP. The interaction between the Panama arc and the South American plate also contributed to the more intensive deformation (Figure 19G).

During the Miocene, the main direction of motion of the Chortis block remained oblique to its northern margin—the SIFZ (Figure 20). It conditioned a significant component of deformation parallel to this margin (strike slip) and a displacement of approximately 380 km (∼236 mi) along the North American–Caribbean margin (SIFZ) observed in the plate reconstruction (area 1 in Figure 20A, B). Also, along the southeastern margin of the Siuna terrane (PBFZ), a high deformational component parallel to this margin was calculated (area 2 in Figure 20A, B). The amount of deformation parallel to the western margin of the CLIP, which corresponds to the PBFZ, is equivalent in magnitude to the deformation calculated along section C (area 3 in Figure 20A, B). Along the northwestern margin of South America, the early SCDB showed a higher component of parallel-to-the margin deformation that seems to have increased in the late Miocene (area 4 in Figure 20).

Figure 20. Components of deformation parallel to the direction of plate motion and parallel to the margins of main crustal provinces for the western Caribbean Sea for the period of early and late Miocene. The maps in (A) and (B) show the plate configuration for these periods according to the plate reconstruction of Escalona and Norton (2015) (small arrows and numbers in the plate reconstruction indicate the direction of instantaneous plate motion with plate velocity in centimeters per year). Four areas are analyzed and shown in the numbered boxes: (1) the north–northwestern margin of the Chortis block (CH) corresponding to the Swan Islands fault zone (SIFZ), (2) the southeastern margin of the Siuna terrane (ST) corresponding to the Pedro Bank fault zone (PBFZ), (3) the northwestern margin of the Caribbean large igneous province (CLIP) corresponding to the PBFZ, and (4) the northwestern margin of South America corresponding to the south Caribbean deformed belt (SCDB). The charts compare the percentage of extension (blue) and shortening (red) calculated along the transects (Figures 4, 6, 8, 12) and the projected percentage of motion along each of the plate/crustal province margins. Zooms of the boxes show the relationship and angles characterizing the extensional or shortening component along the sections (black line), parallel to the main plate direction of motion (red arrow), and parallel to the projected component of motion along plate or province margins (dark-blue arrow). Key to colored basement areas on the map are given in the legend in Figure 19. CAA = Central American arc; CP = Cocos plate; CT = Cayman Trough; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; MFZ = Motagua fault zone; NAP = North American plate; OCS = oceanic crust to be subducted; PA = Panama arc; SAP = South American plate; YB = Yucatan block.

Pliocene

Contrasting to the previous stage, major thickening in the Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence took place along the eastern slope of the Nicaraguan Rise (Figures 16F, 21B; Table 2), in comparison with less sedimentation along the western Honduran borderlands or the central Nicaraguan Rise (Figures 16A, 21A). Thickening can be related to activity within the San Andres rift and the PBFZ (Figure 1; Carvajal-Arenas and Mann, 2018). The southern Nicaraguan Rise was a sediment-starved area with little deformation (Figure 21C; Tables 1, 2), whereas the Colombian Basin was the site of deposition of a thick Pliocene–upper Miocene interval that lacks significant deformation (Figure 21D; Tables 1, 2). This sequence shows onlap stratal terminations against a slightly deformed upper Miocene sequence that was controlled by basement structures formed on a very broad and gentle basement high (Figures 10B, 11B). The Pliocene–upper Miocene sequence is mostly accumulated in a large depocenter to the west of this basement high (Figure 16I). This package contrasts to the older subupper Miocene sequences, which show larger thicknesses in the eastern part of the basin associated with the flexure of the CLIP caused by subduction and the formation of the SCDB.

Figure 21. Structural and plate kinematic reconstruction for the Pliocene (3 Ma). Restored sections at top of the Pliocene for the (A) western Nicaraguan Rise (NR) and Honduran borderlands, (B) eastern NR, (C) southern NR and western Colombian Basin (CB), (D) CB, (E) eastern CB, and (F) Cesar–Rancheria Basin (CRB). (G) Plate reconstruction of the western Caribbean at 3 Ma from Escalona and Norton (2015); the map is displayed in the Universal Transverse Mercator 17N projection. CA = Central Atlantic; CAA = Central American arc; CH = Chortis block; CLIP = Caribbean large igneous province; CP = Cocos plate; CR = Cocos Ridge; CT = Cayman Trough; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; HFZ = Hess fault zone; LIP = large igneous province; NAP = North American plate; NP = Nazca plate; NPDB = north Panama deformed belt; PA = Panama arc; SAP = South American plate; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; SIFZ = Swan Islands fault zone; ST = Siuna terrane; YB = Yucatan block.

Intensive deformation within the SCDB (Figure 21E) is shown by the development of a thrust and fold belt, piggyback basins, and shale diapirism. Continued high rates of deformation and uplift took place in northern South America (Figure 21F), producing erosion and exposure of older rocks in the margins of the Cesar–Rancheria Basin in northern Colombia. The plate reconstruction by circa 3 Ma (Pliocene) shows the configuration of the SCDB and the plateau with only a few remaining areas to be subducted (Figure 21G).

Displacement during the Pleistocene to the Holocene along the SIFZ was approximately 35 km (∼22 mi). The components of deformation parallel to the northern Chortis block (SIFZ) and the southeastern Siuna terrane (PBFZ) margins were higher than the deformation calculated along sections A and B (areas 1 and 2 in Figure 22A, B). The component of deformation parallel to the western margin of the CLIP, which coincides with the PBFZ, is comparable with the deformation recorded along section C (area 3 in Figure 22). For the SCDB, the convergence calculated along section E (Table 1) is higher than the component of motion parallel to the northwestern margin of South America (area 4 in Figure 22), indicative of an increase in the angle between the direction of the CLIP motion and the trend of the margin.

Figure 22. Estimates of deformational components parallel to the direction of plate motion and parallel to the margins of main crustal provinces for the period of the Pliocene and Holocene. The maps in (A) and (B) show plate reconstructions for these periods based on Escalona and Norton (2015) (small arrows and numbers in the plate reconstruction indicate the direction of instantaneous plate motion and the plate velocity in centimeters/year). The deformational components from the four areas are summarized in the numbered boxes: (1) the north–northwestern margin of the Chortis block (CH) corresponding to the Swan Islands fault zone (SIFZ), (2) the southeastern margin of the Siuna terrane (ST) corresponding to the Pedro Bank fault zone (PBFZ), (3) the northwestern margin of the Caribbean large igneous province (CLIP) that includes the PBFZ, and (4) the northwestern margin of South America that includes the south Caribbean deformed belt (SCDB). The charts compare the percentage of extension (blue) and shortening (red) calculated along each of the four sections shown in Figures 4, 6, 8, and 12 and the projected percentage of motion along the plate/province margins. Zooms of the boxes illustrate the relationship and angles characterizing the extensional or shortening component along the transects (black line) and parallel to the main plate direction of motion (red arrow) and the projected component of motion along plate or crustal province margins (dark-blue arrow), as summarized in the legend of the plate reconstructions in Figure 19. CAA = Central American arc; CP = Cocos plate; CT = Cayman Trough; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; MFZ = Motagua fault zone; NAP = North American plate; OCS = oceanic crust to be subducted; PA = Panama arc; SAP = South American plate; YB = Yucatan block.

DISCUSSION

Crustal Provinces and Their Relationship to Structural Styles and Basin Dynamics

The basement of the Chortis block and Siuna terrane on the northern Nicaraguan Rise is not well imaged using the seismic reflection data available to us for this study (Figures 4B, 6B). However, gravity and magnetic modeling constrained by previous studies (Ewing et al., 1960; Case et al., 1990; Emmet and Mann, 2010; Garnier-Villarreal, 2012; Sanchez et al., 2015) constrain the top of the Chortis block and Siuna basement at depths of 8–10 km (26,247–32,808 ft) (Figures 4A, 6A). The interpreted top Cretaceous surface shows an average depth of 3–5 km (9843–16,404 ft), which would indicate that the Cretaceous and sub-Cretaceous units overlying the top basement surface are approximately 3–7 km (∼9843–22,966 ft) thick.

The outcrop geology of Honduras adjacent to our study area on the northern Nicaraguan Rise exhibits approximately 1-km (∼3281-ft)-thick sections of folded and thrust-faulted Cretaceous and sub-Cretaceous sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks of the Chortis block (Arden, 1969; Viland and Henry, 1996; Rogers et al., 2007b). We correlate this onshore Colon fold-thrust belt to the offshore, subsurface, and deformed intervals observed on offshore seismic data to underlie the top Cretaceous seismic reflector (Figures 4B, 5, 23; Table 1).

Figure 23. Regional cross section across the western Caribbean integrating the individual sections shown in Figures 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12. The cross section summarizes the crustal type and thickness, tectonic boundaries separating crustal blocks, and thickness of overlying sedimentary basins for each crustal province. The presence of hydrocarbons in wells of the different provinces is also indicated. CRB = Cesar–Rancheria Basin; CT = Cayman Trough; GAC = Great Arc of the Caribbean; HB = Honduran borderlands; HFZ = Hess fault zone; LIP = large igneous province; NR = Nicaraguan Rise; PBFZ = Pedro Bank fault zone; SAP = South American plate; SCDB = south Caribbean deformed belt; SIFZ = Swan Islands fault zone; SSMM = Sierra de Santa Marta massif.

The onshore Colon fold-thrust belt recorded the collision between the Siuna arc terrane and Chortis continental block (Rogers et al., 2007b; Sanchez et al., 2015). The thickness between the interpreted Cretaceous top and the basement of the Nicaraguan Rise (Figures 4, 6, 23) is more difficult to explain, because the basement of the Siuna terrane with Caribbean arc affinity has been estimated to be no older than the Valaginian (ca. 140 Ma) (Pindell and Kennan, 2001). This age estimate would predict an underlying thick and highly deformed zone of earlier Cretaceous age that could have included a broad accretionary sequence as proposed by Baumgartner et al. (2008) on the basis of their field studies of the Siuna terrane and surrounding areas in Nicaragua.

Neogene to Holocene fault activity has been proposed along the left-lateral PBFZ (Mauffret and Leroy, 1997; Ott, 2015) and along its associated pull-apart basin, the San Andres rift (Carvajal-Arenas and Mann, 2018). The San Andres rift connects the left-lateral PBFZ with the active part of the left-lateral, southwestern HFZ (Figures 1, 2). Recent extension of the San Andres rift may have produced localized subsidence in the eastern Nicaraguan Rise (Figures 6B; 7A, B; 16F; 21B).

Reduced subsidence of the Cretaceous to Eocene basement in the center of the Colombian Basin (Figure 16J) could reflect a thickening of the CLIP in this area as interpreted from gravity and magnetic modeling (Figure 10A). Isostatic subsidence (Allen and Allen, 2013) may have contributed to the higher Neogene sediment accumulation on the western part of the Colombian Basin (Figures 16I, 18D, 19D). The SCDB is an out-of-sequence, landward-propagating thrust system (Figures 12B>; 13A, B) in which the older Pliocene–upper Miocene deformed zone is localized along the frontal part of the accretionary prism, whereas the younger Holocene–Pliocene deformation is more pronounced in the landward (southeastward) direction (Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c). This unusual, out-of-sequence structural history and its associated subsidence behavior may have been controlled by (1) shale diapirism observed in the prism area, (2) more rapid Miocene to Holocene subsidence in the more landward part of the prism (Figures 16M), and (3) subduction of thick, buoyant, oceanic plateau–type crust of the Colombian Basin (Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c).

The crustal structure, seismicity, and tomography for the northern margin of South America show the CLIP subducting at a very low angle (∼15°–20°) beneath the South American continental plate (Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015b; Syracuse et al., 2016; Figure 12A), which is in agreement with an earlier model by Ceron-Abril (2008) showing a gently dipping subducted slab beneath northern Colombia. The continental crust of Colombia thickens toward the east from approximately 20 to 30 km (∼65,617 to 98,425 ft) in our model (Figure 12A) and is calibrated according to results based on receiver functions (Niu et al., 2007; Poveda et al., 2015; Figure 2). The shallow subduction process provides a likely explanation for regional uplift by the Eocene in the area of the Cesar–Rancheria Basin (Sanchez and Mann, 2015; Figures 15F, 18F).

Regional Integration of Offshore and Onshore Events

Comparison of the six individual sections that collectively make up the 1600-km (994-mi)-long regional cross section across the western Caribbean Sea shows thickness variations of the sedimentary cover with (1) thinner basinal areas in the central and western Colombia Basin and southern Nicaraguan Rise, (2) thicker basinal areas in the Nicaraguan Rise and Honduran borderlands on the northwestern part of the cross section, and (3) thicker basinal areas in the eastern Colombian Basin and SCDB at the southeastern end of the transect (Figure 23; Table 2). A reduced supply of sediments and higher buoyancy of the Caribbean oceanic plateau crust (Korenaga and Korenaga, 2008) may explain the presence of a thin sedimentary section in the southern Nicaraguan Rise (Figure 16G, H) and in the central and westernmost Colombian Basin (Figure 16J).

The extensional and transtensional history of the Honduran borderlands and western Nicaraguan Rise (Chortis block) starting during Late Jurassic rifting of the continental areas (Pindell and Kennan, 2001; Solari et al., 2007; Ratschbacher et al., 2009; Bartok et al., 2015) may have produced higher accommodation space and resulted in the accumulation of thicker sedimentary sequences (Mills et al., 1967; Arden, 1969; Mills and Hugh, 1974; Finch, 1981; Emmet, 1983). A transpressional phase has also been proposed for the Late Jurassic in Honduras (Viland and Henry, 1996) that resulted in elevated structural blocks that received less Cretaceous deposition. A later Paleogene strike-slip regime controlled the formation of pull-apart basins onshore (Mills and Barton, 1996). The extensional basins observed in the profile crossing the Honduran borderlands (Figures 4B, 5A, 15A) may correspond to the strike-slip regime described from on-land areas by Mills and Barton (1996) and Viland and Henry (1996).

The SCDB records southeastern subduction of the CLIP beneath the South American plate, which has led to a broad uplift and deformation of the northwestern corner of South America since the Eocene (Bayona et al., 2011; Cardona et al., 2011a; Kroehler et al., 2011; Figures 15F, 18F, 19F, 21F). This uplift phase contributed to an increased sediment supply to the zone of frontal accretion of the SCDB—especially in the period following the Pliocene (Flinch et al., 2003; Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015c). Accelerated uplift of the Sierra de Santa Marta massif and other mountain ranges such as the Perija Range (Villagómez et al., 2011; Sanchez and Mann, 2015) and the Eastern Cordillera (Mora et al., 2013) controlled thick, clastic deposition in intramontane basins including the Cesar–Rancheria and Lower Magdalena Basins (Figure 23).

Evaluating the Strike-Slip Component of Deformation Parallel to Crustal Province Margins

Large amounts of strike-slip motion along plate margins are observed in the plate reconstruction (Figures 15G, 16G, 18G, 19G, 21G), which reflects the transtensional and transpressional structural styles along the interpreted sections. Previous authors have also documented transpressional or transtensional deformational styles, including (1) Avélallemant and Gordon (1999), who described Oligocene transtensional deformational styles on Roatan Island, Honduras; (2) Ratschbacher et al. (2009), who interpreted multiple episodes of Eocene to recent transpression and transtension during the Eocene to recent translation of the eastern Chortis block; and (3) Galindo and Lonergan (2013), who proposed complex strain partitioning along the SCDB off of northern Colombia that included right-lateral strike-slip faulting and linked compressional structures at the rear of the accretionary prism.

Cenozoic deformation related to the eastward motion of the Caribbean plate was accommodated by left-lateral shear between the North American–Caribbean plates and by right-lateral shear between the South American–Caribbean plates (Figure 1). Figure 24 summarizes the estimates of deformation along the plate motion direction (red bars) and parallel to the province margins (blue bars) based on the plate reconstruction model from Escalona and Norton (2015); Figure 24 also summarizes the deformation along the interpreted sections (Figures 4, 6, 8, 10, 12) (green bars) based on our structural restorations (Figures 15, 16, 18, 19, 21) for different crustal provinces (y-axis) at different times during the Cenozoic (x-axis).

Figure 24. Graph summarizing estimates of deformation along the plate motion direction (red bars), along the interpreted sections (Figures 4, 6, 8, 10, 12) (green bars), and parallel to the crustal province margins (blue bars) at different times during the Cenozoic (x-axis) by 65, 45, 38, 23, 6, 3, and 0 Ma. The different areas of the western Caribbean (y-axis) are (1) the north–northwestern margin of the Chortis block that corresponds to the Swan Islands fault zone (SIFZ), (2) the southeastern margin of the Siuna terrane that corresponds to the Pedro Bank fault zone (PBFZ), (3) the northwestern margin of the Caribbean large igneous province (CLIP) that is defined by the PBFZ, and (4) the northwestern margin of South America that is defined by the south Caribbean deformed belt (SCDB).

A period of synchronous and intensive Miocene deformation is observed along both margins; less intensive deformation is observed along the intervening and intraplate faults such as the PBFZ, which forms the boundary between the Siuna terrane (Great Arc of the Caribbean) (Ott, 2015; Carvajal-Arenas and Mann, 2018) and the CLIP (Figures 17, 20, 22, 24; Table 1). Such a deformational response is predicted for the more rigid intraplate areas of the Caribbean that show negligible present-day plate motions based on the current resolution of GPS-based geodesy (DeMets et al., 2007).

Strike-slip motion along the PBFZ that is parallel to the northwestern CLIP margin dominates during the early Paleocene (Figure 17B, 24). This observation is consistent with left-lateral strike-slip motion along the Cayman Trough and the accompanying west-to-east transport of the Caribbean area into the region between the North and South American plates during this period (Seton et al., 2012; Boschman et al., 2014). The motion of the Chortis block shows a significant strike-slip component along the SIFZ that increased during the Eocene and showed its highest values during the Miocene with a decrease by the Pleistocene (Figure 24).

The SCDB shows moderate shortening during the Miocene that increased during the Pleistocene–Holocene period (Figure 18E, Figure 19E, 21E). The right-lateral strike-slip component of motion along the Caribbean–South American plate margin in comparison with the orthogonal motion was largest during the Miocene and decreased in the Pleistocene–Holocene (Figure 24). A large deformation observed in northern South America during the Pleistocene may coincide with an accelerated uplift and exhumation episode in the Perija Range and Cesar–Rancheria Basin (Shagam et al., 1984; Hernandez and Jaramillo, 2009; Cardona et al., 2011a; Sanchez and Mann, 2015; Figure 18F, 19F, 21F). This phase of strike-slip motion decreased along the SCDB during the Pliocene to Holocene, which might indicate a corresponding increase in plate convergence as supported by intense deformation along section E (Table 1) and a thick sedimentary section deposited during this period (Table 2).

Hydrocarbon Presence and Prospectivity along the Transect

Hydrocarbon exploration in northern Honduras and the offshore Nicaraguan Rise began in the 1950s but produced negative results with several dry holes drilled by the 1970s and 1990s (Emmet and Mann, 2010; H. Aves and R. Manton, 2014, personal communication; Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2015). Wells drilled up until 1975 were not drilled deep enough to penetrate the top Cretaceous sequence, but by the 1990s some deeper wells such as Embarcadero-1 penetrated the upper part of an approximately 4.5-km (∼14,763.8-ft)-thick, deformed limestone section cropping out in the Colon Mountains of eastern Honduras. Follow-up field studies in this area of eastern Honduras have not been able to identify promising reservoir and source rocks that may also be found offshore (Mills and Barton, 1996).

In offshore Honduras, a petroleum system was proven in the Main Cape-1 well in 1973 that reported light oil in Eocene limestones (Emmet and Mann, 2010; H. Aves and R. Manton 2014, personal communication; Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2015), with the potential source rocks in the underlying Eocene and Upper Cretaceous sections. To the north, the Honduran borderlands remains an underexplored area with only a few unsuccessful wildcat wells drilled in shallow water close to the Honduran continental shelf edge (Figure 1). The Eocene sequence, interpreted on seismic lines from the central and northern Honduran borderlands, includes carbonate reservoir facies that are potential exploratory targets (Sanchez et al., 2015). Along the eastern Nicaraguan Rise, several wells have proven the presence of a petroleum system resulting in noncommercial oil and gas accumulations with Eocene and Miocene source rocks and Eocene to Miocene mainly carbonate reservoirs. Ineffective seals and fault breaches are negative factors that may preclude the occurrence of large accumulations in this area (Carvajal-Arenas et al., 2015).

The proven existence of large accumulations of gas offshore northern South America has led to a renewed exploration interest across the region (Ramirez, 2007; Castillo et al., 2017). Oil exploration in onshore intramontane basins in South America began in the early 1900s and found effective petroleum systems with the Upper Cretaceous La Luna Formation acting as the main source rock (Sanchez and Mann, 2015). Cenozoic clastic units that provide the reservoirs and structural traps were generated during deformation and erosion during Cenozoic deformational events (Ayala, 2009). Minor production has been achieved in the Lower Magdalena Basin (Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015a) along with the Cesar–Rancheria Basin (Sanchez and Mann, 2015).

CONCLUSIONS

Six crustal and structural provinces and their tectonic boundaries were identified and characterized in the western Caribbean Sea using an integration of gravity, magnetic, and seismic reflection data along an approximately 1600-km (∼994-mi)-long transect extending from the Cayman Trough to northern Colombia. These six crustal provinces include (1) the Eocene to Holocene oceanic crust of the offshore Cayman Trough pull-part basin that defines the North American–Caribbean plate boundary (Figure 4); (2) the Precambrian to Paleozoic continental crust of the offshore Chortis block underlying the offshore area of Honduran borderlands and northern Nicaraguan Rise along the northwestern edge of the Caribbean plate (Figure 4); (3) the Cretaceous island-arc crust of the Siuna terrane that is correlative to the Great Arc of the Caribbean (Figure 6); (4) the Upper Cretaceous CLIP, a large oceanic plateau with a crustal thickness ranging from 15 to 20 km (49,213–65,617 ft) (Figure 8, 10); (5) the Eocene to Holocene sedimentary accretionary wedge of the SCDB (Figure 12A, B); and (6) the Precambrian to Paleozoic continental crust of South America including the uplifted Sierra de Santa Marta massif and Cenozoic intermontane Cesar–Rancheria Basin of northern Colombia (Figure 12A, C).

Six important tectonic processes interpreted from the transect include the following. (1) Cenozoic, transtensional, and transpressional reactivation of Late Cretaceous south-dipping thrust faults have also deformed and metamorphosed Cretaceous to sub-Cretaceous rocks along the Honduran borderlands and Nicaraguan Rise and in eastern Honduras (Venable, 1994; Rogers et al., 2007a; Sanchez et al., 2015). (2) In this same area of the northern Nicaraguan Rise, we show an abrupt and near-vertical Late Cretaceous age suture inferred between the continental crust of the Chortis block and the island-arc crust of the Siuna terrane—the age of suturing is circa 72 Ma (Venable, 1994). (3) To the south, we show active Cenozoic volcanism contemporaneous with deposition of the Cenozoic sequence in the southern Nicaraguan Rise. (4) Near the southern end of the transect adjacent to the South American margin, we document bending of the CLIP as it subducts southeastward beneath the SCDB accretionary prism and ultimately beneath the continental crust of northern South America (Figures 12A, 23). (5) Increased deformational and sedimentation rates were observed within the accretionary SCDB and are inferred to record a major pulse of deformation during the period from late Miocene to Holocene (Figures 19E, 21E, 23). (6) The southern end of the transect in the on-land area of northwestern South America documents convergent deformation of the overriding South American plate during and following the Eocene collision of the Great Arc of the Caribbean along with Miocene shallow subduction of the CLIP (Bernal-Olaya et al., 2015b) and collision of the Panama arc (Cardona et al., 2011a; Escalona and Mann, 2011; Figures 19G, 21G).

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank A. Vartan, D. Hajovsky, R. Robertson, and V. Backer at Petroleum Geo-Services in Houston, Texas, for providing us with the deep-penetration seismic data that formed a key data source for the area of the northern Nicaraguan Rise. We also thank M. Saunders of Spectrum in Houston, Texas, for providing seismic data for the area of the Nicaraguan Rise in Colombia. We thank L. Gahagan of the Institute for Geophysics of The University of Texas for providing us with their vintage University of Texas seismic lines from the western Caribbean Sea. We thank A. Escalona (University of Stavanger) and I. Norton (The University of Texas at Austin) for their helpful discussions on Caribbean plate reconstructions, and we thank B. Ott (formerly of University of Houston, now at Hess, Houston, Texas) for sharing information from the Jamaican sector of the Nicaraguan Rise. We thank D. Bird (Bird Geophysical and University of Houston) for discussions of the gravity and magnetic interpretations in this paper and for arranging our access to Oasis Montaj software. L. Torrado, J. Storms, and M. Kouassi offered revisions that helped improve the manuscript. We thank the industry sponsors of the Caribbean Basins, Tectonics, and Hydrocarbons consortium for their continued support of our studies at the University of Houston and University of Stavanger. Finally, we thank I. Filina (University of Nebraska–Lincoln), Frances Whitehurst, and an anonymous reviewer for their comprehensive reviews that greatly improved this paper.

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