Three-dimensional seismic imaging of the Costa Rica accretionary prism: Structural diversity in a small volume of the lower slope


  • Thomas H. Shipley,

  • Kirk D. McIntosh,

  • Eli A. Silver,

  • Paul L. Stoffa


Conventional two-dimensional seismic reflection investigations have been generally relied upon to provide images of large to medium scale structural features in accretionary prisms. We undertook a three-dimensional seismic reflection survey of a small part of a prism arcward of the Middle America Trench off Costa Rica to more correctly image structure and to use the improved structural information to examine the processes of accretion. This survey reveals small features, with dimensions of hundreds of meters, while also defining features thousands of meters in lateral extent, both of which were underappreciated in conventional two-dimensional data from the same area. We have imaged active off scraping at the trench and both duplexing and out-of-sequence faulting a few kilometers arcward of the trench. Fault spacing and reflector geometry vary dramatically over a space of several hundred meters. Some of these variations are related to visible changes in morphology of the underlying oceanic basement, but others are not so easily documented. Fault surface reflections define an architecture which may control gross fluid motion through the prism. This architecture is apparently formed by duplexing and out-of-sequence faulting and has been maintained by periodic motion on some of the out-of-sequence faults. The slope sediment apron records multiple phases of deformation. Abundant small offset reverse faults break the seafloor and indicate recent shortening of a broad region of the underlying prism. A primary result of this survey is appreciation of the structural diversity across a small width of an accretionary prism.