Neogene–Quaternary tectonic evolution of the Leeward Antilles islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) from fault kinematic analysis

Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao are islands aligned along the crest of a 200-km-long segment of the east–west-trending Leeward Antilles ridge within the broad Caribbean–South America plate boundary zone presently characterized by east–west, right-lateral strike-slip motion. The crust of the Leeward Antilles ridge represents the western segment of the Cretaceous–early Cenozoic Great Arc of the Caribbean, which obliquely collided, with the continental margin of northern South America in early Cenozoic time. Following the collision, the ridge was affected by folding and was segmented by oblique, northwest-striking normal faults that have produced steep-sided, northwest-trending, elongate islands and narrow shelves separated by deepwater, sediment-filled and fault-controlled basins. In this paper, we present the first fault slip observations on the Neogene carbonate rocks that cover large areas of all three islands. Our main objective is to quantify the timing and nature of Neogene to Quaternary phases of faulting and folding that have affected the structure and topography of this area including offshore sedimentary basins that are being explored for their petroleum potential. These data constrain three fault phases that have affected Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao and likely the adjacent offshore areas: 1) NW–SE-directed late Paleogene compression; 2) middle Miocene syndepositional NNW–SSE to NNE–SSW extension that produced deep rift basins transverse to the east–west-trending Leeward Antilles ridge; and 3) Pliocene–Quaternary NNE-trending compression that produced NW–SE-trending anticlines present on Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire islands. Our new observations – that include detailed relationships between striated fault planes, paleostress tensors, and bedding planes – show that prominent bedding dips of Neogene limestone on Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao were produced by regional tectonic shortening across the entire Leeward Antilles ridge rather than by localized, syndepositional effects as proposed by previous workers. We interpret Pliocene–Quaternary NNE-directed shortening effects on the Leeward Antilles ridge as the result of northeastward extrusion or “tectonic escape” of continental areas of western Venezuela combined with southeastward shallow subduction of the Caribbean plate beneath the ridge.

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