Letters to Nature

Nature 404, 748-752 (13 April 2000) | doi:10.1038/35008046; Received 6 August 1999; Accepted 22 February 2000

Subduction erosion along the Middle America convergent margin

C. R. Ranero & R. von Huene

  1. GEOMAR, Wischhofstrasse 1-3, Kiel 24148, Germany

Correspondence to: C. R. Ranero Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.R.R. (e-mail: Email: cranero@geomar.de).

'Subduction erosion' has been invoked to explain material missing from some continents along convergent margins1. It has been suggested that this form of tectonic erosion removes continental material at the front of the margin or along the underside of the upper (continental) plate2, 3, 4. Frontal erosion is interpreted from disrupted topography at the base of a slope and is most evident in the wake of subducting seamounts5, 6. In contrast, structures resulting from erosion at the base of a continental plate are seldom recognized in seismic reflection images because such images typically have poor resolution at distances greater than approx 5 km from the trench axis. Basal erosion from seamounts and ridges has been inferred7, 8, but few large subducted bodies—let alone the eroded base of the upper plate—are imaged convincingly. From seismic images we identify here two mechanisms of basal erosion: erosion by seamount tunnelling and removal of large rock lenses of a distending upper plate. Seismic cross-sections from Costa Rica to Nicaragua indicate that erosion may extend along much of the Middle America convergent margin.