Marine geophysical studies of the southern margins of the Iberian Peninsula
A wide variety of tectonic settings are juxtaposed at the southern margins of the Iberian Peninsula. The regional geology comprises an Atlantic passive margin in western Iberia, the convergent eastern part of the Azores-Gibraltar plate boundary zone between Africa and Eurasia, and an orogenic arc (the Betic-Rif mountains) surrounding an extensional basin (the Alboran Sea). The complex tectonic history of the southern Iberian margins is recorded in its sediments and structure, and these were investigated in this study using multichannel seismic reflection techniques in conjunction with other marine geophysical data. Multichannel seismic reflection and well data from the Gulf of Cadiz have shown that the earliest sediments are Triassic evaporites, followed by Jurassic carbonates, which form rotated fault blocks in the Gulf of Cadiz. Backstripping and thermal modelling has indicated that a rifting event took place in the Late Jurassic, which stretched the crust by ~20-50%. Gravity modelling, and mapping of stretching factors, has suggested that two zones of thinning underlie the Gulf of Cadiz, which are related to the original rifting event. Backstripped subsidence curves indicate passive margin thermal subsidence until the Miocene, when westward-directed thrusting and loading from the Betic-Rif mountain belt is reflected in a typical foreland basin tectonic subsidence signature of accelerated subsidence with time. A giant, chaotic body of allochthonous sediment was emplaced into the central Gulf of Cadiz as westward migration of the Gibraltar Arc led to oversteepening of the margin west of the Gibraltar Straits, while the Alboran Sea was simultaneously undergoing active extension. These allochthonous deposits are composed mainly of Triassic evaporites and Palaeogene shales. In the Gulf of Cadiz and Seine Abyssal Plains this body has the appearance of an accretionary wedge, but a 300 km long northern lobe of the body extends into the Horseshoe Abyssal Plain. This lobe is interpreted as being a cumulative mass wasting feature, formed by the gravity-driven downslope transport of large allochthonous masses as debris flows and slides and slumps, encouraged by a regional gradient and a pre-existing trough in the Horseshoe Abyssal Plain. The total volume of sediments involved was of the order of 72 000 km 3 , and the time of emplacement has been estimated as being Tortonian on the basis of seismic correlation with core data at DSDP site 135. This chaotic unit has formed a series of longitudinal diapiric ridges in the northern Gulf of Cadiz, which have been interpreted to act as a transport system for gas generated in the lower slope area to migrate to the upper slope where gas-related features are seen. Gas hydrates are present beneath the lower continental slope, as inferred from a bottom-simulating reflection on seismic reflection profiles.