The River Network, Active Tectonics and the Mexican Subduction Zone, Southwest Mexico
Friday, 19 December 2014
Rivers, their profiles and network reflect the integration of multiple processes and forces that are part of the fundamental controls on the relief structure of mountain belts. The motivation of this study is to understand active tectonic processes in the forearc region of subduction zones, by distinguishing evidence of active deformation using the river network and topography. To this end, morphotectonic and structural studies have been conducted on fifteen drainage basins on the mountain front, parallel to the Mexican subduction zone, where the Cocos plate underthrusts the North American plate. The southwest – northeast Cocos plate subduction stress regime initiated ca. 20 MA.
NE-SW to NNE-SSW normal faults as well as sub-latitudinal to NW-SE strike-slip faults (both dextral and sinistral) constitute the majority of mesofaults recorded in the field within the studied drainage basins. Occasionally dextral N-S strike-slip faults also occur. The stress tensor reconstruction suggests two main evolution stages of these faults: 1) the older is dominated by a NW-SE to WNW-ESE extensional regime and 2) the younger is a transcurrent regime, with NNE-SSW σ1 axis.
The drainage pattern is strongly controlled by tectonic features, whereas lithology is only a subordinate factor, with only one exception (Petatlán river). Generally, major rivers flow from north to south mainly through NE-SW and NNE-SSW normal faults, and/or sub-longitudinal dextral (also locally sinistral) strike-slip faults. In the central and eastern part of the studied area, rivers also follow NW-SE structures, which are generally normal or sinistral strike-slip faults (rarely reverse). In most cases, local deflections of the river main courses are related to sub-latitudinal strike-slip faults, both dextral and sinistral.
Within the current stress field related to the active Cocos subduction, both normal and strike-slip fault sets could be reactivated. Our analysis suggests that strike-slip faults, mainly left lateral, are probably active because they are offsetting the main stream courses of the largest river basins; however only few focal mechanisms are associated to these faults. We hypothesize that these faults are active, perhaps experiencing slow events or associated fault creep. Further studies are needed to solve this problem.