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JOURNAL

OFGEOPHYSICAL
RESEARCH,
VOL.100,NO.B7,PAGES
12,357-12,373,
JULY10,1995

Shapeof the subductedRivera and Cocosplatesin southern


Mexico: Seismicand tectonicimplications
Mario Pardo and Germdo Sufirez
Insfitutode Geoffsica,UniversidadNacionalAut6nomade M6xico

Abstract.Thegeometry
of thesubducted
RiveraandCocos
platesbeneath
theNorthAmerican
plate
insouthern
Mexicowasdetermined
basedontheaccurately
located
hypocenters
oflocaland
te!eseismic
earthquakes.
Thehypocenters
oftheteleseisms
wererelocated,
andthefocaldepths
of
21 eventswereconstrained
usinga bodywaveinversionscheme.Thesuduction
in southern
Mexicomaybeapproximated asa subhorizontal
slabboundedattheedgesbythesteep subduction
geometry
of theCocosplatebeneath
theCaribbean
platetotheeastandoftheRiveraplatebeneath
NorthAmericatothewest.Thedipoftheinterplate
contact
geometryisconstant
to a depthof 30
kin,andlateralchangesin thedipofthesubducted
plateareonlyobserved onceit isdecoupled
fromtheoverriding plate.Onthebasisof theseismicity,
thefocalmechanisms, andthegeometry
ofthedowngoing slab,southernMexicomaybesegmented intofourregions
ß(1) theJalisco
regionto thewest,wheretheRiveraplatesubductsata steepanglethatresembles thegeometry
of
theCocosplatebeneath theCaribbean platein CentralAmerica;(2) theMichoacan region,where
thedipangleof theCocosplatedecreases graduallytowardthesoutheast, (3) theGuerrero-Oaxac.a
region,bounded approximately by theonshore projectionof theOrozcoandO'Gorman fracture
zones,wherethesubducted slabis almostsubhorizontalandunderplates theuppercontinentalplate
forabout250 kin, and (4) thesouthern OaxacaandChiapas region,in southeastern
Mexico,
wherethedip of the subductiongraduallyincreasesto a steeper subductionin CentralAmerica.
Thesedrasticchangesin dip do notappearto takeplaceon tearfaults,suggesting thatsmooth
contortions
accommodate thesechanges in geometry.The inferred80 and100 km depthcontours
of the subducted slab lie beneath the southernfront of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt,
suggesting
it is directlyrelatedto thesubduction.Thustheobserved
nonparallelismwith the
MiddleAmericanTrenchis apparently dueto thechanging
geometryof theRiveraandCocos
plates
beneath
theNorthAmerican
platein southern
Mexico,
andnottozones
ofweakness
inthe
crustof the North Americanplateassomeauthorshavesuggested.

Introduction takes place on a fold. They also suggestedthat to the


southeast,the changein dip may be relatedto differencesin
The seismicity and tectonics of southern Mexico are
the age of oceanic lithosphere on either side of the
characterized
by the subductionof the oceanicCocosand
Tehuantepecridge.
Riveraplatesbeneaththe North Americanlithospherealong Until recently, the acceptedview was that the Cocos plate
the Middle American Trench. Several studies have shown that
subductsbeneathcentral Mexico at a constantand relatively
this subductionzone exhibits lateral variations in the dip of
shallowangleof ~12 to 15ø [Stoiberand Carr, 1973;Hanus
the subductedoceaniclithosphere[e.g., Molnar and Sykes, and Vanek, 1978; Havskov et al., 1982; Burbach et al., 19.84;
1969; Stoiber and Carr, 1973; Dean and Drake, 1978; Nixon,
Bevis and lsacks, !984; Singh and Mortera, 1991]. Using
1982; Beyis and lsacks, 1984; Burbach et aL, 1984; Ponce et
data from a permanentlocal network, Sutirez et al. [1990]
al., 1992]. A steep subductiongeometryin southeastern definedthe geometryof the subductedplate in more detail and
Mexico [Ponce et al., 1992] and in the Jaliscoregionof showed that in central Mexico the slab does not subduct at a
western
Mexico [Pardoand Sudrez,1993]bounda slabdipping
steadyshallowangle. Instead,after an initial dip of-15 ø, the
apparently
at a very shallowanglein centralMexico. slab becomesalmostsubhorizontaland underplatesthe North
On the basis of teleseismic data, Burbach et aI. [19134]
American upper lithosphere. This plate geometry is
concludedthat the subductedCocosplatecanbe dividedinto reminiscent of that found in central Peru and central Chile,
thesethreemajorregionsdippingat differentangles.Beyis wherethe Nazca plate also subductshorizontallybeneaththe
andlsacks[1984],usinga hypocentral trendsurface
analysis, SouthAmericanupperlithosphere.
findno evidenceof tearfaultingseparating
thesesegmentsof Perhapsone of the more striking tectonic features in
thesubducted
lithosphere
•[nd"
suggested
thatthetransitionsouthern Mexico is the location of the Trans-Mexican
Volcanic Belt. The Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt crosses
southern Mexico from east to west at about I9øN. The
distributionof the volcanicarc is oblique(-16 ø) relativeto the
1Now
atDepartamento
deGeoffsica,
Universidad
deChile,
Santiago.Middle American Trench (Figure 1), in an unusalgeometry
which is not parallel to the subductionzone. The Trans-
Copyright
1995by theAmerican
Geophysical
Union.
MexicanVolcanicBelt is ~100 km wide andis cut by a
Paperhumber95JB00919. sequence
of grabensthat are obliquerelativeto the general
0148-0227/95/95JB.,00919505.00 trend of the arc [Nixon, 1982]. '

12,357
12,358 PARDO AND SUAREZ: SUBDUCTION OF THE RIVERA AND COCOS PLATES

-115" - 110 ø - 105" - 1O0 ø -95 ø -90 ø -85 ø -80 ø


25 25 ø

NORTH AMERICA

CARIBE
20" 20 ø

PACIFIC

15' 15"

-'OCOS.'

10' 10 ø

-115' -110 ø -105 ø -100 ø -95 ø -90 ø -85 ø -80 ø

Figure 1. General tectonic setting of the study area. Five lithosphericplates arc shown: Pacific, Rivera,
Coco.,,, North A•nerica, and Caribbean. Relative convergence rates (cm/yr) between the {•ceanic and
continental plates are indicated by open arrows, and absolute motions of the upper plates relative to a hot
spot rra•ne of reference ,ire shown by shadedarrows. The abrcviationsare EPR, East Pacific Rise; TFZ,
Tamayo Fracture Zone; RFZ, Rivera FractureZone; OFZ, Orozco Fracture Zone; OGFZ, O'Gorman Fracture
Zone; TR, TchuantcpecRidge; MAT, Middle AmericanTrench; JB, JaliscoBlock; CG, Colima Graben;EG,
E1 Gordo Graben. Solid triangles indicate Quaternaryvolcanism,and the crossedarea indicatesthe Trans-
Mexican Volcanic Belt (TMVB).

The volcanic arc erupted since the Miocene and mostly Volcanic Belt is presentedhere. The availability o1'datafrom
during the Plioccne and Quaternary. A diversity of structures permanentand temporary local networksand the occurrence of
such as large strato-volcanoes, monogenetic cineritic cones, recentearthquakesrecordedat tcleseismicdistanceswhichhad
shield volcanoes, and several calderas are found on the not been studied previously otter tin excellent opportunityto
volcanic belt. The chemical and petrologicai characteristics understand this region ol' complex subduction geometryin
.of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt indicate that, in general, greater detail.
the volcanic sequences that form this belt are c,lic-alkaline, The purposeof this study is to determinethe geometryof
although some localized zones of alealine volcanism exist the subducted Cocos and Rivera plate, based on all the
along the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, especially in western available and reliable hypocenter locations of earthquakes
Mexico [e.g., Luhr et al., 1985; Allan et al., 1991]. The recorded with local and teleseismic networks, and to studythe
radiometric dating of volcanic rocks and the broad nature of regional distribution of stresseswith reported and newly
the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt suggest the migration of determined focal mechanisms. Together, these data are
volcanism toward the trench sihce 5.3 Ma [Delgado et al., analyzedto determinean integralmodelof the subduction in
1993]. southernMexico and its implicationson the seismicityand
A number of contrasting hypotheseshave been proposedto tectonics of' the area.
account for the nonparallelism of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic
Belt relative to the Middle American Trench and its relation to Tectonic Setting
the subductedoceanic plate. These hypothesescan be divided
This studyincludesthe subduction
of the Rivera andCocos
into two groups: (1) those which favor a direct association
plates in southernMexico, west of the intersectionof the
between subduction and volcanism [e.g., Molnar and Sykes,
1969; Demant and Robin, 1975; Nixon, 1982; Burbach et al.,
Tehuantepec ridgewiththeMiddleAmerican Trench(Figure1).
Accordingto Mammerickxand Klitgord[1982], the tectonic
1984; Suc•rezand Singh, 1986], and (2) those which suggest
that the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt bears no direct tectonic historyof this regionfor the last25 m.y. hassufferedat least
relation with the subduction along the Middle American
three major plate reorganizations.The old Farallonplate
evolved first to the Guadalupe plate, which was later
Trench and explain its origin as resulting from zones of
weakness within the crust of southern M6xico, inherited from
segmented into the actualRivera and Cocosplates. The
earlier episodes of deformation [e.g., Mooser, 1972; Gastil
position
of thespreadingcentersmovedeast,fromabout12.5
to 11 Ma, to the Mathematician seamounts. Later, between
and Jensky, 1973; Shurbet and Cebull, 1973; Johnson and
6.3 to 3.5 Ma, it shifted to its actual positionof the East
Harrison, 1989].
Pacific Rise (EPR).
An integral study that takes into account the geometry of
the subducted Rivera and Cocos plates beneath the North
Rivera Plate
American lithosphere (NW of 94øW), the stressdistribution in
the subducted slab, and the relation between the subduction Theexistence
of thesmallRiveraplatewasfirstsuggested
process and the anomalous location of the Trans-Mexican by Atwater [1970]. Sincethen, severalauthorshaveshown
PARDOANDSUAREZ:
SUBDUCTION
OFTIlERIVERAANDCOCOS
PLATES 12,359

thatthe Rivera plate is kinematicallydistinctfrom the North Guerreroregion. Hypocentrallocationswere considered


AmericanandCocosplates[Bandyand Yah,1989;Eisslerand reliableand includedin the final datasetwhentheymet the
McNaIly, 1984;DeMets and Stein, 1990]. The junction followingcriteria: (1) a minimumof sevenphasereadings
betweenthe East Pacific rise and Rivera fracturezoneis located withat leastoneS wavearrivaltime; (2) a rootmeansquare
165kmto thewestof theMiddleAmerican Trench[Bourgois errorof lessthan0.25 s; (3) estimatedhypocentralerrorsof
andMichaud, 1991]. The preciselocationof the Rivera-Cocos lessthan 10 km; (4) a hypocentral
variationof lessthan 10
boundary is still controversial,and no clear bathymetric km whenthe initialtrial depthwasvariedfrom !0 to 150 km;
features
canbe associatedto a distinct
andclearplateboundary and(5) a maximumanglegapbetweenthe epicenter andthe
[Eisslerand McNally,1984;Mamrnerickx,1984;Bourgois local stations of less than 230 ø. From a total of over 3000
and Michaud, 1991]. Bandy [1992] suggested
that the E1 events,a final subsetof only 1101 hypocenters
satisfiedthese
Gordograben
maybe partof theRivera-Cocos
plateboundary criteria (Figure 2).
(Figure1).
The Rivera lithosphere consumedat the trench is of late Relocated Earthquakes
Mioceneage (~9 Ma)[Klitgord and Mammerickx,1982].
Althoughthe seismicityrelatedto the subructionof theRivera Earthquakeswith magnitudernb > 4.5 were relocatedin
southernMexico, usingthe JHD method[Dewey, 1971] and
platebeneaththe Jaliscoblockis low (Figure2), at leastsix
the phase readings reported by the International
largeeathquakes (Ms > 7.0) havebeendocumented since! 837,
Seismological Centre(ISC) between1964 andJanuary1990.
includingthe great 1932 Jaliscoearthquake (Ms=8.2)[Eissler
and McNally, 1984; Singh et al., 1985]. This contradictsthe
Severalcalibrationeventswereusedalongthe region:(1) for
the zonebetween103ø and 105ø, we usedthe largestaftershock
suggestionthat the Riveraplatesubducts aseismically[Nixon,
of the 1973 Colima earthquake(Ms=7.5). This aftershock
1982]. On the basisof locallyrecordedmicroearthquakes and
(Ms=6.2) was located with a temporary seismicnetwork
relocatedhypocentersof teleseismicevents,Pardo and Sudrez
deployedafter the mainshock[Reyeset al., 1979]; (2) for the
[1993]concluded thatthe subduction of the Riveraplatetakes
zone between100ø and 103øW, the 1979 Petatlanearthquake
placewith a steepangle(-50 ø) belowdepthsof 40 km.
(Ms=7.8)recorded
with portablestations
[Va!ddset aI., 1982]
was used;and (3) the 1981 Ometepecearthquake(Ms=7.2)
Cocos Plate
[Nava, 1984] for the easternmost
region.
The Cocos plate subductsat a rate that increasesto the The JHD method [Dewey, 1971] determines relocated
southeast from 4.8 cm/yr at 104.5øWto 7.5 cm/yr at 94øW hypocenters relative to the hypocenter of the calibration
[DeMetset al., 1990]. The age of the Cocosplatealsovaries event, applying time adjustmentsto the phasereadingsof P,
alongthe Middle AmericanTrench, with jumps associated to p P, and S. These time adjustments of the reporting
fracturezones(Figure 1). To the east,the Tehuantepecridge seismologicalstationswere obtained from the varianceof the
intersects
the Middle AmericanTrenchnear--.95øW.Thisridge different phasearrival times of the calibrationeventsand from
is the largestlinear bathymetricfeatureon the easternflank of the earthquakes reportedin this studyfor which the focal depth
the East Pacific Rise. Apparently, it is the morphological was constrainedusing a long-period body wave inversion.
expressionof a fracture zone that presumablyseparatescrust These calibration station-phaseswere then used in a single-
of significantlydifferentages. A youngerand shallowercrust event location method [Dewey, 1971], in order to determine
to the northwest differs in age to that southeastof the the relocatedhypocenterswithin the zonesof each calibration
Tehuantepec
ridgeby approximately10 to 25 m.y. [Couchand event. A sphericalEarth modelwasusedin the JHD methodto
Woodcock, 1981]. relocate the hypocenters.
For the easternpart of the region, we used the relocated
hypocenters obtainedby M. Cruz andG. Su•rez (manuscript in
Data Usedin the Analysis preparation) who applieda similarprocedure.The precisionof
The data used to infer the morphologyof the subducted eachrelocatedhypocenterrelative to the calibrationevent is
Rivera and Cocos plates beneathsouthernMexico are (1) estimatedby computingerror ellipsoidsfor the hypocentral
accurately determined hypocenters obtained from local coordinatesat a 90% confidencelevel. A hypocentrallocation
microearthquake data recordedby permanentand temporary was consideredreliablewhen the ellipsoidsemiaxeswere less
seismologicalstations,and (2) eventsrecordedat teleseismic than 20 km; all eventswhich did not meet these criteria were
distances
and relocatedusingthe methodof JointHypocenter discarded. A final subset of 207 reliable hypocenterswas
Determination(JHD) [Dewey, 1971]. For someof the larger obtained from an initial set of over 300 events. The
events(m/•>_5.0), the focal depthwas constrained from the hypocentral
andfocalparameters
of all theearthquakes
studied
inversion
of long-period bodywaves[Ndbelek,1984]. are shown on Figure 2 and provided as an electronic
supplement
for thereader.
Local Microearthquake Data
Long-Period Body Wave Inversion
All the available Iocal data from the permanent and
temporaryseismicnetworksinstalledin southernMexico were The formal inversion of P, S V, and S H waveforms
used in order to accurately locate the hypocentersof constrainsthe focal mechanismand the centroidaIfocal depth
microearthquakes within the zone [Nava, 1984; UNAM [NdbeIek, 1984]. Long-period seismogramsof teleseismic
SeisrnoIogy
Group,1986;Sansores,1990;PardoandSuc•rez, earthquakes(25ø > A > 90ø) from the Global Digital
1993;Ponceet al., 1992;Zu•iga et al., 1993]. SeismographNetwork(GDSN) wereusedfor the eventsthat
occurred between 1980 and 1987 and from the World-Wide
The hypocenters were locatedusingHYPO7! [Lee and
Valdes,1985]with thevelocitymodelreported
by Sudrezet al. StandarizedSeismograph Network (WWSSN) for the events
[1992],
anda velocity
ratio(Vp/V
s = 1.76)determined
forthe that occurredprior to 1980. The analogseismogramswere
12,360 PARDO AND SUAREZ: SUBDUCTION OFTHE RIVERA AND COCOS PLATES

+-i--I-
" .• ß ß
ß

++
,

++.

.m
PARDO
ANDSUAREZ:
SUBDUCTION
OFTHERIVERA
ANDCOCOS
PLATES 12,361

hand-digitizedand filteredwith a high-passfilter with cutoff the southeast,


themaximumdepthobserved for earthquakes
in
frequency of 0.017 Hz (60 s) to eliminatelong-period noise. the Cocosplate,betweenthe E1 Gordograbenandthe point
All of theeventsmodeled arein themagnitude range5.0>_rnt, where the Orozco FractureZone apparentlyintersectsthe
_>6.1, and therefore a point sourcewas assumedin all cases. trench, is 100 km. Farther east, in the region bounded
Keyexamples of themodeled eventsareshownonFigure3. approximatelyby the onshoreprojectionof the Orozco and
the O'Gormanfracturezones,wherea goodcoverageof local
Analysisof Hypocentral Data stationsexists, the maximum focal depths observedare
consistentlyless than 70 km. Betweenthe O'Gormanfracture
In plan view, the seismicityof southernMexico showsa zone and the TehuantepecRidge the maximum depth of
distributionin bands parallel to the trench [Sudrezet al., earthquakesincreasescontinuoslydownto depthsof 180 km.
1990](Figure2). The first band alongthe coastis relatedto The depthextent of the various segmentsof the subduction
the interplateseismogeniccontact. North of it lies an almost zonedirectlycorrelateswith the observeddip of the slab.
aseismic zone, which becomes broader between 96øW and Smooth contours of the Wadati-Benioff zone were obtained
10!øW. Fartherinland,a secondbandof deeperintraplate using a two-dimensionalspline interpolation [Smith and
events(depths> 50 km) in the oceanicdowngoingslablies at Wessel,1990] (Figure6). In centralMexico,however,to the
a distanceof 150-250km from the trench(Dt). Beyondthis northof 18øNandat distances beyond300 km from the trench,
last band, which lies immediately to the south of the Trans- thereis a remarkabledearthof seismicevents(Figures2 and
MexicanVolcanicBelt, the seismicactivitydisappears. 6). Thusthe 80- and 100-km-deep contourscannotbe mapped
In order to map the geometryof the subductedslab, 12 cross directly in centralMexico.
sectionsof the seismicitywere drawn (Figures2 and4). The These two contourswere drawn following the trend of the
originof all the crosssectionsis the trench,and they are all slab at shallowerdepthsand extrapolatingtheir locationfrom
orientedin the directionof convergence predictedbetweenthe the regionswhere they are well defined by the seismicity:to
Rivera-North America [DeMets and Stein, 1990] and Cocos- the westof 103øWand eastof 96øW (Figure6). The resulting
NorthAmerica [DeMetset al., 1990] platepairs(Figure2). contoursshowthat the Cocosplate lies at depthsof 80 to 100
The shallow part of the subductionzone (h < 30 km) km beneath the southern front of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic
indicatesa constantinterplate geometrythat initially dips at Belt (Figure 6). This depth of the Wadati-Benioff zone of
~10ø and gradually increasesto --25ø at a depth of 30 km approximately100 km beneaththe volcanicarc is observedin
(Figure 4). This geometry is observed throughout the most subructionzones of the world. This suggeststhat the
subruction zone in southern Mexico and appears to be Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt is directly related with the
independentof the age and the relative convergencevelocity subruction of the oceanic slab beneath the North American
of the subductedoceanic plate; no lateral changesof the plate and that the observednonparallelismof the volcanicbelt
interplate geometry are observed where major bathymetric with the trenchis mainly due to the geometryof the subducted
featuresare being subducted. plate.

Geometry of the Subducted Plate Focal Mechanisms and State of Stress

The subductedRivera and Cocosplates show rapid lateral In this study, 21 new focal mechanismsof earthquakes
variationsin dip at depthsgreaterthan-30 km (Figure4). In within the subductingCocos plate are reported(see electronic
the Isthmusof Tehuantepec(crosssectionAA' on Figures2 supplements).The lower hemispheric
projectionof the focal
and 4a), the seismicitydefines a Wadati-Benioff zone dipping mechanismsobtainedfrom a waveform inversionreportedin
at an angle of-30 ø. Immediatly towardthe west (Figure4b), this studyand in previousworks are shownon Figure7, and
the dip of the downgoingslab is shallowerand decreases to an severalkey examplesof the earthquakesmodeledin this study
angle of-25 ø. In central Mexico, the geometry of the are shownon Figure 3. These focal mechanismsare also
downgoingslab becomesalmostsubhorizontal at distances of shownon lateralprojectionon the crosssections(Figure4).
between110 km to 275 km from the trench and at depthsof Owingto the absence
of seismicstationsto the southandwest
about50 km (Figures4c to 4g). A similar geometrywas of southern Mexico, the focal mechanisms of small
inferred
for theGuerrero
region(Figures
4f and4g) bySudrezet earthquakes
reportedfrom the first motionof P wavesare
al. [1990]andSinghand Pardo [ 1993]usinglocaldata. poorlyconstrained.
Thereforeonly onemechanism fromfirst
In the westernmost
regionof the Cocosplate (Figures4h motion data alone was used; its small magnitudeprecludedthe
slabchangesagainrapidly use of a formal inversion scheme (event 67 on the electronic
and4i), the dip of the subducted
from the subhorizontalsubductionobservedin the region of supp!ementl).
Guerrero andOaxaca(Figures 4c to 4g)to a steeper
dipof-30 ø. In a manneranalogousto the seismicity,the stresspattern
This dip angie is similarto that observedon Figure3a, near observedalongthe subductionzone may be dividedin zones
the Isthmusof Tehuantepec. Towardthe northwest, the slab
continuesto steepenprogressively, andbeneaththe Colima
volcano,the Wadati-Benioffis celarlyfolloweddippingat an
1Anelectronic
supplement
of thismaterial
maybeobtained
ona
disketteor AnonymousFTP from KOSMOS.AGU.ORG. (LOGIN to
angleof ~50ø downto a maximumdepthof approximately 130 AGU's FTP account using ANONYMOUS as the usernameand
km (Figure4j). GUEST as the password. Go to the right directoryby typing CD
APEND. TypeLS to seewhatfiles are available.TypeGET andthe
A crosssection parallelto thetrench,from(19øN,106øW) name of the file to get it. Finally, type EXIT to leave the system.)
to (15øN,95øW), showsthe rapidand drasticvariationsin (Paper95JB00919,
Shapeof thesubducted
RiveraandCocosPlatesin
southernMexico: Seismicand tectonic implications,by Mario Pardo
maximumdepthextentof the hypocenters within southern and Gerardo Su.4rez). Diskette may be ordered from American
Mexico(Figure5). In thecaseof theRiveraplatebeneath the GeophysicalUnion,2000 FloridaAvenue,N.W., Washington,
DC
Jaliscoregion,the maximumfocaldepthis 130 kin. Toward 20009;$15.00.Payment
mustaccompanyorder.
12,362 PARDO AND SUAREZ: SUBDUCTION OF THE RIVERA AND COCOS PLATES

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PARDO AND SUAREZ: SUBDUCTION OF THE RIVERA AND COCOS PLATES 12,367

RIVERA • N COCOS

o
JALISCOMICHOACAN GUERRERO
o ', ,, '
km ,-
(•ou, •w) to (•su,
2• • t : •'" ' I ' ' I ' ] ' I 1o
40
L K d I H • F E D C B A

20

cm/yr
m.y.
l__w.a----
I1-.• *Age
[m.y.b.p.]
ß Rate [cm/yr]
I ' I ' I ' I ' I ''' I ' I • I ' ß I ' I ' I " ' I . 0
200 400 600 800 1000 1200 km

Figure5. Relocated
hypocenters
projected
ontoa cross
section
parallel
tothetrench,
from(19øN,106øW)
to (15øN,95øW);symbols ason Figure1. Southern
Mexicocanbe separated intofourmajorsegments:
Jalisco,Michoacan,Guerrero,andOaxaca.Thebottom partshowsthevariations in ageof thesubducted
slabat thetrench[KlitgordandMammerickx, 1982]andin therateof relativemotionof theoceanic
plates
at thetrench[DeMetsand Stein,1990,DeMetset al., 1990]. Crosssections A to L arethoseshownon
Figures2 and4.

parallel
to thetrench(Figures depthzone subduction zone are the relative convergence rate in the
4 and7). A shallow
closeto the trench showsinterplatethrustfaulting followed subduction
zone,the age of the subducted
slab,the absolute
bydowndip, normalfaultingevents.The thrustearthquakesmotionof theoverriding plate,andthe subductionof aseismic
areobserveddown to a maximumdepthof-25 km alongthe bathymetric features,likeridgesor intraplate
seamounts [e.g.,
Cocosplate (Figure 4). CrossandPilger,1982;Jarrard,1986].Except fortheageof
Downdipfromtheinterplate a zoneof lowseismic the slab,all of theseparameters
contact, correlatenegativelywiththe
activity
is observedwhichis followedfartherinlandby anarea dip of the downgoing plate. Thusyounglithosphere is
of intraplate
eventsshowingnormalfaultingat depthsgreater apparentlymore buoyantthan old platesand subduers at a
than50 km. The normal faulting eventsin the downgoing lower dip angle.
in a direction Therefore, accordingto these empirical relations, the
slab(Figure7) show,in general,T axesoriented
oceanicplate(Figure shallowdip observedin the subduction
parallelto thegradientof the subducted zone of southern
6). Only wherethe slabshowsa rapidchangein dip, near Mexicocould be explained
by the relatively
youngageof the
96øW and 101øW, the stress distribution become more subducting
slab,its moderate
convergence
rate,andtherapid
complex(Figure 8). absolute
motionof theupperNorthAmericanplaterelativeto
there thetrench(Figure1). To theeastof theTehuantepec
Beneaththe normalfaultingeventsnearthecoastline, ridge,
is a sheetof compressional
events,withdepthsranging
from where the Cocosplatesubductsbeneaththe Caribbeanplate
40 km to 50 km (events47, 70, 158, 28, 152 and67 on the witha steeper
dip angle,thesubducting
slabis 10 to 25 m.y.
electronic
supplement;
Figures4b,4d,4e,4f, 4h and4j). This olderthanto the westof TR [Couchand Woodcock,1981],and
doublezone in stressis probablyassociated to flexural the relativemotionof the upperCaribbeanplate towardthe
stressesassociatedto the slab bending upward to become trench is lower than to the northwest[Gripp and Gordon,
subhorizontal[SutSreaet al., 1990]. 1990] (Figure 1).
SouthwesternMexico is the region of the subductionzone
Practicallyno crustalseismicityis observedin the
overriding
plateoverthesubducted Cocos plate(Figure
4). In wheretheCocosplateis youngest.In thissamemanner,the
contrast,
thereis a relativelyhighcrustalseismicitywithin ageof thesubducting Riveraplateis alsorelativelyyoung.
theJalisco regionin western Mexico(Figures 2 and4j-41), However,the dip of the downgoingslabin this areais steep.
suggestingthatthedeformation of theJalisco
blockis greater Thusthesimplecorrelation betweentheageof theslabandits
in the NorthAmericanplateovertheCocos dip doesnot holdin thiscase.The onlymajordifference
thanthatobserved
betweenthe Riveraandthe Cocossubduction
zonesis the slow
slab[Pardo and SutSrez,1993].
convergence rate betweenthe RiveraandNorthAmerican
plates(---2cm/yr)[DeMetsand Stein,1990],relativeto a
Discussion
greaterCocos-North
Americaconvergence
rate(-6 cm/yr)
Although
the conditions
controlling of [DeMetset al., 1990](Figures1 and4). Perhaps
the geometry thislowrate
subduction
zonesare still controversial,severalauthorshave of relativemotionbecomes
an importantparameter
affecting
suggested
thattheprincipal
factors
affecting
thegeometry
of a thegeoinetryof thesubducted
Riveraplate.
12,368 PARDO AND SUAREZ: SUBDUCTION OF THE RIVERA AND COCOS PLATES

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12,370 PARDO AND SUAREZ: SUBDUCTION OF THE RIVERA AND COCOS PLATES

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PARDO AND SUAREZ: SUBDUCTION OFTHE RIVERA AND COCOS PLATES 12,371

earthquakesalong the coupled interplatecontactin southern


Mexico [Singh and Mortera, 1991] is probably related to
variationsin the strengthof couplingalongthe plate interface
50
and not to the geometryof the subductionor to the depth
extent of the coupledinterplatezone.
kill The depthextent of the seismogenicplate contactcan be
estimated from the maximum depth of the shallow thrust
150 earthquakes [e.g., Sudrezand Comte,1993]. In the caseof the
Cocosplate, this depth is consistentlyshallowerthan .--25
km. This resultsyield an unusuallynarrowseismogeniczone
0
which is only .-.60 km wide. This shallow depth of
seismogeniccouplingis abouthalf as deepas that observedin
50 most subductionzones of the world [e.g., Pacheco et al.,
-g 1993]
km , In the case of the Rivera plate, the maximum depth of
seismogenic couplingappearsto be slightlydeeperand reach
2 (GUERRERO) ß-.40 km. This observation is suggested by a coastal
150 .'" ,' . , . , . , . ', . , '.', . -
earthquakeshowinga nodal plane dippingto the northeastat
an angleof 34ø (event92 on Figure4j and on the electronic
. I ',,,, i
supplement).If this earthquakestill reflectedthe interplate
contact,the width of the seismogeniczone of the Rivera plate
5O would be wider (.-.75 km) than that of the Cocos plate, and,
potentially, earthquakesof greater magnitude could be
h
generatedon its plate interface. Interestingly,the largest
earthquake this centuryon the Middle AmericanTrench,the
km
I3(MICHOACAN)
150 v . i I l'"'I '
, . , , , . , .
1932, Jaliscoearthquake(Ms=8.2), occurredon the Rivera-
North America plate interface[Eissler and McNally, 1984;
Singh et al., 1985].
_ .• . I • I ,• I ß 1
The lateralvariationsin the dip angleof the subducted
plate
at depthsgreaterthan30 km (Figure4, 5, and6) suggest
that
southern Mexico can be divided into four regions bounded
5O
approximatelyby major bathymetric features identified
offshore(Figures6 and9). (1) The Jaliscoregion,wherethe
kill
steep-dipping
Riveraplatesubducts beneathNorthAmericais
boundedto the eastby the subductionof the El Gordograben.
150
4 (JALISCO)
.............
..IxXj_, In fact, the significantdifferencesin the dip of the slab on
both sides of the El Gordo graben may indicate that this
0 I i ,,,I ., 1 tectonicfeaturedecouplesthe downgoingRivera and Cocos
plates. (2) The Michoacanregion, is a transitionzone
between the steep subductionof the Rivera plate and the
50 almost subhorizontal subduction to the east. As mentioned
before,it is boundedby the E1Gordograbento the westandby
krn the onshoreprojectionof the Orozcofracturezoneto the east.
(3) The Guerrero-Oaxaca region shows an almost
150 , , , , , subhorizontal geometry of the subducted Cocos plate.
Geographically,
thisregioncanbe definedas bounded
by the
0 I00 200 300 km 400 Orozco and the O'Gorman fracture zones. (4) The southern
Oaxacaregion in southeastern
Mexico is a transitionzone
Figure 9. Comparison
of the crosssections
of the four betweenthe flat subductiongeometrybeneathGuerreroandthe
regions
into whichsouthernMexicowasdividedbasedon the steepsubduction geometryof the Cocosplate beneaththe
seismicity
andshapeof the subduction zone. The seismicity Caribbeanplate towards the east.
andthe plate geometryare a superposition of the cross The remarkable absence of seismic events with depths
sections
on Figure4, andarelabeledwiththe sameletters. greaterthan70 km, northof---18øNandof theTrans-Mexican
Thebottomfigureshowsa comparison of the geometryof Volcanic Belt suggeststhat the downgoingplate lossesits
subduction
in eachof theseregionsin southern
Mexico. brittle behavior and sinks aseismically into the mantle to the
north of the volcanic belt. Perhaps low-magnitude
Seismic and Tectonic Implications earthquakes
occurwhichare too smallto be detected
by the
Thedepthextentanddip of the interplate is insufficient seismicnetwork coverage that exists today. The
megathrust
constant
and doesnot exhibitany clearcorrelation with the inferred80- and 100-km-deepcontoursof the downgoingslab
ageof the subductedplate, with the relative convergence appear to lie beneath
thesouthernfrontof theTrans-Mexican
velocity,
or withthesubductionof bathymetric along VolcanicBelt (Figure6). This observationstronglysuggests
features
thetrench
(Figures4 and6). Thusthedifferent modes the associationof this volcanic belt with the subductionof the
rupture
andcomplexity
of theseismic sources forlargethrust oceanicplatebeneaththe North Americanplate. Thusthe
reported
12,372 PARDOAND SUAREZ:SUBDUCTIONOFTHE RIVERA AND COCOSPLATES

observednonparallelismof the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt Bandy, W.L.,andC. Y. Yan, Present-day


Rivera-Pacific
andRivera-
with the trench is mainly due to the geometryof the subducted Cocos
1989.
relative
plate
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Eos Trans.
AGU, 70,1342,
Rivera and Cocosplatesin southernMexico.
Beyis,
M.,and
B.L.Isacks,
Hypocentral
trend
surface
analysis:
Probing'
thegeometry
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J. Geophys.
Res.,89,6153-6170,
1984.
Summary and Conclusions
Bourgois,J., and F. Michaud, Active fragmentation of theNorth
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the
recorded at teleseismic distances were used as the database. For middle Americantrenchand their implicationsfor the subduction
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The subructionin southernMexico may be approximated as vo!e/inica trans-mexicanahate 8.3 May sus migracioneshaciael
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areain southern
Mexico,Geofis.
!nt.,21,325-
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UNAM, and the Universidadde Colima for facilitatingdata from their
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Johnson,
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Tectonics
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Wesselfor the use of the program GMT to draft the figures. This
research was partially supported by CONACYT and by project
Klitgord,
K.,andJ.Mammerickx,
Northern
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Magnetic
UACPyP-UNAM 30309. One of us (M.P.) acknowledges a fellowship
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