Deformation mechanisms along active strike-slip faults : SeaMARC II and seismic data from the North America-Caribbean plate boundary
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The northwest part of the North America-Caribbean plate boundary zone is characterized by active, left-lateral strike-slip faults that are well constrained seismically and are corroborated by on- and offshore geologic mapping. The onshore plate boundary zone comprises the Motogua and Polochic fault systems of southern Guatemala which join and continue offshore as the Swan Islands fault zone along the southern edge of the Cayman trough. At the Mid-Cayman spreading center in the central Caribbean Sea, the fault motion is transferred at a 100 km wide left-step in the fault system to the Oriente fault zone. A third system, the Walton fault zone, continues east from the Mid-Cayman Spreading center to define the Gonave microplate. Seafloor features produced by strike-slip faulting along the Swan Islands and Walton fault zones have been imaged and mapped using the SeaMARC II side-scan sonar and swath bathymetric mapping system, single-channel seismic data, multichannel seismic data and 3.5 kHz depth profiles. Structures mapped along the Swan Islands and Walton fault zones include: 1) twenty-six restraining bends and five releasing bends ranging in size from several kilometers in area to several hundred kilometers in area; 2)en echelon folds which occur only within the restraining bends; 3) straight, continuous fault segments of up to several tens of kilometers in length; 4) restraining and releasing bends forming in "paired" configurations; and 5) a fault-parallel fold belt fold and thrust belt adjacent to a major restraining bend. The features observed along the Swan Islands and Walton fault systems are compared to other features observed along other strike-slip fault systems, from which empirical models have previously been derived. Based on the features observed in these strike-slip systems, a rigid plate scenario is envisioned where the geometry of the fault and the direction of plate motion have controlled the types of deformation that have occurred. In a related study, microtectonic features in an area of Neogene extension within the northwestern Caribbean plate were investigated in order to provide insight on the nature of intraplate deformation related to the motion along the plate boundary. Microtectonic features were measured in the Sula-Yojoa rift of northwestern Honduras with the intention of inverting the data to estimate stress states responsible for the observed strains. Data inversion for the estimation of stress states could not be undertaken with the available measurements, however, the observations made can be used to support several existing models for the intraplate deformation as well as to encourage the elimination of other models.