Upper lithospheric structure of the subduction zone offshore of southern Arauco peninsula, Chile, at ∼38°S



[1] A joint interpretation of swath bathymetric, seismic refraction, wide-angle reflection, and multichannel seismic data was used to derive a detailed tomographic image of the Nazca–South America subduction zone system offshore southern Arauco peninsula, Chile at ∼38°S. Here, the trench basin is filled with up to 2.2 km of sediments, and the Mocha Fracture Zone (FZ) is obliquely subducting underneath the South American plate. The velocity model derived from the tomographic inversion consists of a ∼7-km-thick oceanic crust and shows P wave velocities typical for mature fast spreading crust in the seaward section of the profile, with uppermost mantle velocities >8.4 km s−1. In the trench–outer rise area, the top of incoming oceanic plate is pervasively fractured and likely hydrated as shown by extensional faults, horst-and-graben structures, and a reduction of both crustal and mantle velocities. These slow velocities are interpreted in terms of extensional bending-related faulting leading to fracturing and hydration in the upper part of the oceanic lithosphere. The incoming Mocha FZ coincides with an area of even slower velocities and thinning of the oceanic crust (10–15% thinning), suggesting that the incoming fracture zone may enhance the flux of chemically bound water into the subduction zone. Slow mantle velocities occur down to a maximum depth of 6–8 km into the upper mantle, where mantle temperatures are estimated to be 400–430°C. In the overriding plate, the tomographic model reveals two prominent velocity transition zones characterized by steep lateral velocity gradients, resulting in a seismic segmentation of the marine fore arc. The margin is composed of three main domains: (1) a ∼20 km wide frontal prism below the continental slope with Vp ≤ 3.5 km s−1, (2) a ∼50 km area with Vp = 4.5–5.5 km s−1, interpreted as a paleoaccretionary complex, and (3) the seaward edge of the Paleozoic continental framework with Vp ≥ 6.0 km s−1. Frontal prism velocities are noticeably lower than those found in the northern erosional Chile margin, confirming recent accretionary processes in south central Chile.