Morpho-structural evolution of a volcanic island developed inside an active oceanic rift: S. Miguel Island (Terceira Rift, Azores)

Sibrant ALR, Hildenbrand A, Marques FO, Weiss B, Boulesteix T, Hübscher C, Lüdmann T, Costa ACG, Catalão JC
Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 301 (2015) 90–106,

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The evolution of volcanic islands is generally marked by fast construction phases alternating with destruction by a variety of mass-wasting processes. More specifically, volcanic islands located in areas of intense regional deformation can be particularly prone to gravitational destabilisation. The island of S. Miguel (Azores) has developed during the last 1 Myr inside the active Terceira Rift, a major tectonic structure materializing the present boundary between the Eurasian and Nubian lithospheric plates. In this work, we depict the evolution of the island, based on high-resolution DEM data, stratigraphic and structural analyses, high-precision K–Ar dating on separated mineral phases, and offshore data (bathymetry and seismic profiles). The new results indicate that: (1) the oldest volcanic complex (Nordeste), composing the easternmost part of the island, was dominantly active between ca. 850 and 750 ka, and was subsequently affected by a major south-directed flank collapse. (2) Between at least 500 ka and 250 ka, the landslide depression was massively filled by a thick lava succession erupted from volcanic cones and domes distributed along the main E-W collapse scar. (3) Since 250 kyr, the western part of this succession (Furnas area) was affected by multiple vertical collapses; associated plinian eruptions produced large pyroclastic deposits, here dated at ca. 60 ka and less than 25 ka. (4) During the same period, the eastern part of the landslide scar was enlarged by retrogressive erosion, producing the large Povoação valley, which was gradually filled by sediments and young volcanic products. (5) The Fogo volcano, in the middle of S. Miguel, is here dated between ca. 270 and 17 ka, and was affected by, at least, one southwards flank collapse. (6) The Sete Cidades volcano, in the western end of the island, is here dated between ca. 91 and 13 ka, and experienced mutliple caldera collapses; a landslide to the North is also suspected from the presence of a subtle morphologic scar covered by recent lava flows erupted from alignments of basaltic strombolian cones. The predominance of the N150° and N75° trends in the island suggest that the tectonics of the Terceira Rift controlled the location and the distribution of the volcanism, and to some extent the various destruction events.