Recent work1,2 indicates that the South China Sea is an ‘Atlantictype’ marginal basin of late Tertiary age. Magnetic anomalies in the eastern part of the sea are consistent with seafloor spreading directed approximately north–south1,2. We present here a new morphostructural study based on coupled seabeam mapping and single-channel seismic reflection profiling, which reveals dominant normal fault scarps, striking N50° E between 113 and 119° E longitude near the axis of this basin. Such a structural fabric implies a NW–SE spreading direction, at least in the 150–200-km-wide axial region of the South China Sea, and places new constraints on geodynamic models for the formation of this basin in the tectonic and palaeogeographic framework of South-East Asia and the South-West Pacific.

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  1. IFREMER, Centre de Brest, BP 337, 29273, Brest Cedex, France

    • Guy Pautot
    • , Paul Beuzart
    •  & Gilles Lericolais
  2. Département de Géologie Structurale, Université de Paris 6, 4 Place Jussieu, 75252, Paris, Cedex 05, France

    • Claude Rangin
  3. Institut Français du Pétrole, l'Avenue de Bois-Préau, 92500, Rueil Malmaison, France

    • Claude Rangin
  4. Institut de Physique du Globe, Laboratoire de Tectonique et Mécanique de la Lithosphére, Université de Paris 6, 4 Place Jussieu, 75252, Paris, Cedex 05, France

    • Anne Briais
    •  & Paul Tapponnier
  5. Université de Bretagne Occidentale, 615 “Océanologie et Géodynamique” 6, Avenue Le Gorgeu, 29283, Brest Cedex, France

    • Xavier Mathieu
  6. First Institute of Oceanography, National Bureau of Oceanography, PO Box 98, Qingdao, China

    • Jinlong Wu
    • , Shuqiao Han
    • , Hengxiu Li
    • , Yingxian Lu
    •  & Jicheng Zhao


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