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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Professor Christine Peirce

Watts, A.B., Rodger, M., Greenroyd, C.J., Peirce, C. & Hobbs, R.W. (2009). Seismic structure, gravity anomalies, and flexure of the Amazon continental margin, NE Brazil. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 114(B7): B07103.

Author(s) from Durham



Seismic and gravity data have been used to determine the structure of the sediments, crust, and upper mantle that underlie the Amazon continental margin, offshore NE Brazil. Seismic reflection profile data reveal a major unconformity at ∼7 s two-way travel time (TWTT) which we interpret as marking the onset of the transcontinental Amazon River and the formation of the Amazon deep-sea fan system in the late Miocene. Seismic refraction data show mean sediment velocities that decrease by >1.5 km s−1 in a seaward direction. We attribute this decrease to facies changes associated with sediment progradation and the development of topset, foreset, and bottomset beds. Seismic refraction data show that the sediments are underlain by oceanic crust that has a similar velocity structure compared to elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean but is unusually thin (∼4.2 km). We attribute the thin crust to either slow seafloor spreading or a limited magma supply during the initial rifting of South America and Africa in the Early Cretaceous. The seismic data have been used to construct a new sediment thickness grid that together with gravity anomaly data, suggests the Amazon fan loaded lithosphere with an unusually high flexural strength. While a high-strength lithosphere explains the overall depth of the seismic Moho, there are discrepancies (of up to 2 km) beneath the upper fan, where the modeled flexed Moho is shallower than the seismic Moho, and beneath the middle fan, where it is deeper. Gravity and seismic modeling suggest these discrepancies are caused by lateral changes in subcrustal density such that the mantle underlying the upper fan is denser than it is beneath the middle fan. We attribute these lateral density differences to proximity to the Ceara Rise, which is believed to have formed during the Late Cretaceous in a mid-ocean ridge setting. Fan loading of a relatively strong, dense, and, hence, cold lithosphere predicts stress orientations that are consistent with borehole breakout data and the location and height of the Gurupé Arch onshore. Despite its proximity to “leaky” transform faults, the margin that underlies the Amazon fan appears to be of nonvolcanic origin. The main differences with other nonvolcanic margins, such as West Iberia and Newfoundland, are a greater sediment accumulation, a narrower zone of transitional crust, and a lack of any evidence for extreme extension and mantle serpentinization.