GPS and tectonic evidence for a diffuse plate boundary at the Azores Triple Junction

Marques FO, Catalăo J, DeMets C, Costa ACG, Hildrenbrand A
Earth and Planetary Science Letters 381 (2013) 177–187,

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We use GPS, bathymetric/structural, and seismic data to define the pattern of present deformation along the northern half of the Azores plateau, where the Nubia–Eurasia plate boundary terminates at the axis of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR). New and existing campaign GPS velocities from the Azores islands reveal extension oblique to a series of en échelon volcanic ridges occupied by Terceira, S. Jorge, Pico, and Faial islands. In a frame of reference defined by 69 continuous GPS stations on the Eurasia plate, Terceira Island moves 2±1mm/yr away from Eurasia, consistent with the island's location within the Terceira Rift and plate boundary structure. The volcanic ridges south of the Terceira Rift move toward WSW at progressively faster rates, reaching a maximum of 3.5±0.5mm/yr (2-σ) for the Pico/Faial volcanic ridge. The hypothesis that the Terceira Rift accommodates all Nubia–Eurasia plate motion is rejected at high confidence level based on the motions of sites on S. Jorge Island just west of Terceira Rift. All of the islands move relative to the Nubia plate, with Pico Island exhibiting the slowest motion, only 1±0.5mm/yr (2-σ). Detailed bathymetry from the interior of the hypothesized Azores microplate reveals faults that crosscut young MAR seafloor fabric. These observations and the GPS evidence for distributed deformation described above argue against the existence of a rigid or semi-rigid Azores microplate, and instead suggest that Nubia–Eurasia plate motion is accommodated by extension across a ~140-km-wide zone east of the MAR axis, most likely bounded to the north by the northern shoulder of the Terceira Rift. The MAR spreading rate along the western end of the Azores deformation zone (~38.5°N–39.5°N) is intermediate between the Eurasia–North America rate measured at 39.5°N and the Nubia–North America rate measured at 38.5°N, consistent with the joint conclusions that the Nubia–Eurasia boundary is broad where it intersects the MAR, and the Azores Triple Junction is diffuse rather than discrete.