Heather Franco and Dallas H. Abbott

Gravity signatures of terrane accretion (in Oceanic plateaus and hotspot islands; identification and role in continental growth )

Lithos(January 1999), 46(1):5-15

Index Terms/Descriptors: accretion; basins; bathymetry; Cenozoic; Colombia; Cretaceous; Eocene; fore-arc basins; geophysical surveys; Gorgona Island; gravity anomalies; gravity field; hot spots; Mariana Trench; Mesozoic; models; North Pacific; Northwest Pacific; ocean floors; Pacific Ocean; Paleogene; plate collision; plate tectonics; seamounts; South America; subduction; surveys; terranes; Tertiary; trenches; West Pacific

Latitude & LongitudeS4°00'00'' - N12°15'00'' and W79°00'00'' - W67°00'00''N10°00'00'' - N22°30'00'' and E144°00'00'' - E149°00'00''


In modern collisional environments, accreted terranes are bracketed by forearc gravity lows, a gravitational feature which results from the abandonment of the original trench and the initiation of a new trench seaward of the accreted terrane. The size and shape of the gravity low depends on the type of accreted feature and the strength of the formerly subducting plate. Along the Central American trench, the accretion of Gorgona Island caused a seaward trench jump of 48 to 66 km. The relict trench axes show up as gravity lows behind the trench with minimum values of -78 mgal (N of Gorgona) and -49 mgal (S of Gorgona) respectively. These forearc gravity lows have little or no topographic expression. The active trench immediately seaward of these forearc gravity lows has minimum gravity values of -59 mgal (N of Gorgona) and -58 mgal (S of Gorgona), respectively. In the north, the active trench has a less pronounced gravity low than the sediment covered forearc. In the Mariana arc, two Cretaceous seamounts have been accreted to the Eocene arc. The northern seamount is most likely a large block, the southern seamount may be a thrust slice. These more recent accretion events have produced modest forearc topographic and gravity lows in comparison with the topographic and gravity lows within the active trench. However, the minimum values of the Mariana forearc gravity lows are modest only by comparison to the Mariana Trench (-216 mgal); their absolute values are more negative than at Gorgona Island (-145 to -146 mgal). We speculate that the forearc gravity lows and seaward trench jumps near Gorgona Island were produced by the accretion of a hotspot island from a strong plate. The Mariana gravity lows and seaward trench jumps (or thrust slices) were the result of breaking a relatively weak plate close to the seamount edifice. These gravity lows resulting from accretion events should be preserved in older accreted terranes.