Deep Structures of the Palawan and Sulu Sea and Their Implications for Opening of the South China Sea

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Weinan Liu1, Chun-Feng Li1, Jiabiao Li2, Derek Fairhead3 and Zuyi Zhou1, (1)Tongji University, Shanghai, China, (2)Second Institute of Oceanograp, Hangzhou, China, (3)GETECH, Leeds, United Kingdom
Compared to the northern South China Sea continental margin, the deep structures and tectonic evolution of the Palawan and Sulu Sea and ambient regions are not well understood so far. However, this part of the southern continental margin and adjacent areas embed critical information on the opening of the South China Sea (SCS). We carry out geophysical investigations using regional magnetic, gravity and reflection seismic data. Analytical signal amplitudes (ASA) of magnetic anomalies are calculated to depict the boundaries of different tectonic units. Curie-point depths are estimated from magnetic anomalies using a windowed wavenumber-domain algorithm. Application of the Parker–Oldenburg algorithm to Bouguer gravity anomalies yields a 3D Moho topography. The Palawan Continental Block (PCB) is defined by quiet magnetic anomalies, low ASA, moderate depths to the top and bottom of the magnetic layer, and its northern boundary is further constrained by reflection seismic data and Moho interpretation. However, the continent-ocean transition zone between the PCB and the SCS is characterized by hyper-extended continental crust intruded with magmatic bodies. The NW Sulu Sea is interpreted as a relict oceanic slice and the geometry and position of extinct trench of the Proto South China Sea (PSCS) is further constrained. With additional age constraints from inverted Moho and Curie-point depths, we confirm that the spreading of the SE Sulu Sea started in the Early Oligocene/Late Eocene due to the subduction of the PSCS, and terminated in the Middle Miocene by the obduction of the NW Sulu Sea onto the PCB. According to the newly constrained age of SE Sulu Sea, we also estimate the approximate extent, spreading rate and subducting rate of original SE Sulu Sea.