Oblique subduction of the Gagua Ridge beneath the Ryukyu accretionary wedge system: Insights from marine observations and sandbox experiments

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Abstract

The Gagua Ridge, carried by the Philippine Sea Plate, is subducting obliquely beneath the southernmost Ryukyu Margin. Bathymetric swath-mapping, performed during the ACT survey (Active Collision in Taiwan), indicates that, due to the high obliquity of plate convergence, slip partitioning occurs within the Ryukyu accretionary wedge. A transcurrent fault, trending N95° E, is observed at the rear of the accretionary wedge. Evidence of right lateral motion along this shear zone, called the Yaeyama Fault, suggests that it accommodates part of the lateral component of the oblique convergence. The subduction of the ridge disturbs this tectonic setting and significantly deforms the Ryukyu Margin. The ridge strongly indents the front of the accretionary wedge and uplifts part of the forearc basin. In the frontal part of the margin, directly in the axis of the ridge, localized transpressive and transtensional structures can be observed superimposed on the uplifted accretionary complex. As shown by sandbox experiments, these N330° E to N30° E trending fractures result from the increasing compressional stress induced by the subduction of the ridge. Analog experiments have also shown that the reentrant associated with oblique ridge subduction exhibits a specific shape that can be correlated with the relative plate motion azimuth.

These data, together with the study of the margin deformation, the uplift of the forearc basin and geodetic data, show that the subduction of the Gagua Ridge beneath the accretionary wedge occurs along an azimuth which is about 20° less oblique than the convergence between the PSP and the Ryukyu Arc. Taking into account the opening of the Okinawa backarc basin and partitioning at the rear of the accretionary wedge, convergence between the ridge and the overriding accretionary wedge appears to be close to N345° E and thus, occurs at a rate close to 9 cm yr−1. As a result, we estimate that a motion of 3.7 cm yr−1±0.7 cm should be absorbed along the transcurrent fault. Based on these assumptions, the plate tectonic reconstruction reveals that the subducted segment of the Gagua Ridge, associated with the observable margin deformations, could have started subducting less than 1 m.y. ago.

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