Closely spaced seismic and bathymetric surveys in the southern province of the Gulf of California reveal a tectonically active and structurally complex plate boundary. While heat-flow measurements, seismicity, large sediment accumulations on continental margins, and the presence of oceanic crust in deep basins strongly suggest divergent plate motion, magnetic anomaly patterns are conspicuously absent in the Gulf as a whole. The rate of sediment accumulation (range: 6-1,000 m/m.y.), however, provides an alternative for the differentiation of two types of fault traces and suggests a process by which recently formed plate boundary zones evolve.
Active faults manifest themselves as steep, elongate scarps delineating the active plate boundary zone. These fault traces appear to converge and diverge, for example in the Pescadero Basin complex, in a manner similar to the Southern California borderland. The floors of the intervening basins are flat and relatively sediment free. Relict faults, also elongate fracture zones, are distinguished from active traces in that they are completely filled with hemipelagic muds. The relict faults are located along both sides of the active plate boundary zone and subparallel to it.
These features infer that plate motion is relatively rapid, thus explaining the paucity of sediment accumulation in actively spreading basins in spite of high sedimentation rates. Substantial plate boundary readjustment in short time periods is suggested by the periodic abandoment and subsequent infilling and attachment of formerly active transform faults to the more stable margins of the plates involved. The Gulf of California, therefore, represents a working model of the evolution of a plate boundary and its sedimentological consequences in the early tectonic developmental stage of a passive margin ocean basin such as the Atlantic.
- Received 22 June 1979.
- Revision received 21 July 1980.
- Accepted 2 September 1980.
- © 1981 The Geological Society of America, Inc.