Windward Passage and Jamaica Channel: New Insights About two Tectonic Gateways of the Northern Caribbean

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Marie-Helene Cormier1, Ruth Elaine Blake2, Dwight F. Coleman1, Kelly Guerrier3, Nicole Raineault4, Nixon Saintilus5, Sharon L Walker6, Steven Auscavitch7 and Jamie Wagner8, (1)University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett, RI, United States, (2)Yale University, Dept. Geology and Geophysics, New Haven, CT, United States, (3)State University of Haiti, URGeo-FDS, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, (4)Ocean Exploration Trust, Graduate School of Oceanography - University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI, United States, (5)SEMANAH (Haiti maritime and Navigation Service), Delmas, Haiti, (6)NOAA/PMEL, Seattle, WA, United States, (7)University of Maine, Orono, ME, United States, (8)Duke University, Durham, NC, United States
This August 2014, a 14-day expedition of the E/V NAUTILUS of the OCEAN EXPLORATION TRUST will explore the region delimited by two deep straits of the northern Caribbean, the Windward passage and the Jamaica Channel. The morphology of these straits is controlled by two transform faults: The Septentrional fault, which stretches between Cuba and Haiti (slip rate: ~13 mm/yr), and the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault (EPGF), which stretches between Jamaica and Haiti (slip rate: ~9 mm/yr). Together, these faults bound the Gonave microplate, an elongated platelet caught between the North America plate and Caribbean plates. The Septentrional fault ruptured in 1842, devastating the town of Cap Haitien. The EPGF ruptured catastrophically in 2010 near Port-au-Prince (death toll > 100,000). Tsunamis were associated with both earthquakes. Oblique slip on these two faults is presumably controlling the history of uplift and subsidence of the seafloor, and has therefore also been regulating the water exchanges between the north central Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea. New multibeam bathymetric and CHIRP sub-bottom profiling data will be acquired with the E/V NAUTILUS, while the ROV HERCULES will be used to collect video, water and rock samples, as well as water column physical properties.

We anticipate that this survey will document the following: (1) The nature of drowned carbonate platforms, which in turn may provide useful markers to assess rates of vertical deformation along the two faults. (2) The extent of major landslides detected on the steep fore reefs from existing multibeam bathymetric data. (3) Whether fluids are actively seeping along the fault traces or in association with the landslides, as has been reported elsewhere around the World. (4) If cold seeps are indeed present, to what extent their associated ecosystems are affected by the bottom currents that flow through these gateways. Altogether, the new findings should contribute to a better understanding of the natural hazards associated with two major transform faults.