Variation in styles of rifting in the Gulf of California


Constraints on the structure of rifted continental margins and the magmatism resulting from such rifting can help refine our understanding of the strength of the lithosphere, the state of the underlying mantle and the transition from rifting to seafloor spreading. An important structural classification of rifts is by width1, with narrow rifts thought to form as necking instabilities2 (where extension rates outpace thermal diffusion3) and wide rifts thought to require a mechanism to inhibit localization, such as lower-crustal flow in high heat-flow settings1,4. Observations of the magmatism that results from rifting range from volcanic margins with two to three times the magmatism predicted from melting models5 to non-volcanic margins with almost no rift or post-rift magmatism. Such variations in magmatic activity are commonly attributed to variations in mantle temperature. Here we describe results from the PESCADOR seismic experiment in the southern Gulf of California and present crustal-scale images across three rift segments. Over short lateral distances, we observe large differences in rifting style and magmatism—from wide rifting with minor synchronous magmatism to narrow rifting in magmatically robust segments. But many of the factors believed to control structural evolution and magmatism during rifting (extension rate, mantle potential temperature and heat flow) tend to vary over larger length scales. We conclude instead that mantle depletion, rather than low mantle temperature, accounts for the observed wide, magma-poor margins, and that mantle fertility and possibly sedimentary insulation, rather than high mantle temperature, account for the observed robust rift and post-rift magmatism.

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Figure 1: Map of the PESCADOR experiment in southern Gulf of California.
Figure 2: Models of seismic velocity structure along the Guaymas, Alarcón and the San José del Cabo to Puerto Vallarta transects of the PESCADOR experiment.


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We thank the captains and crew of the RV Maurice Ewing and RV New Horizon, the OBSIP teams, J. Urban, and A. Gorman for his efforts as Chief Scientist on the RV New Horizon. The Lamont Earth Observatory Marine Office and CICESE provided support before and during the experiment. This work was funded by a grant from the US NSF-MARGINS programme.

Author Contributions D.L., P.J.U., G.M.K., W.S.H., A.J.H., A.G.-F., J.M.F. and G.J.A. were the principal investigators on this project and each contributed substantially to this work. F.S., P.P. and H.E.B. analysed data from the Alarcón and Cabo–PV segments as portions of their PhD theses. D.L. analysed data from Guaymas and wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Daniel Lizarralde.

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Lizarralde, D., Axen, G., Brown, H. et al. Variation in styles of rifting in the Gulf of California. Nature 448, 466–469 (2007).

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