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SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST

THE PACIFIC ORIGIN OF THE CARIBBEAN PLATE VS IN


SITU
Author: Jessica Julien (815009105)

For several years there have been several disputes over the evolution of the Caribbean
Plate. Even at geological conferences there has been bickering over whether the Pacific Model
or In Situ Model is the best. In Trinidad and Tobago, many of the Oil and Gas Companies have
accepted James Pindells Pacific Model, but should that mean that up and coming Geologist
such as myself should just readily accept the theory or should we as scientist research and
understand both sides before joining a side? Commented [G1]: Inserted: readily
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The Caribbean Plate as it is now is mostly comprised of oceanic crust and is roughly
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3.2 million square kilometers in area. The Caribbean plate is surrounded by the Cocos Plate,
the North American Plate, the South American plate and the Nazca Plate. The Caribbean Plate,
however, may be considered the "alpha plate" amongst all other plates because despite being
an oceanic plate it subducts the surrounding plates. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic Commented [G4]: Inserted: ,
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eruptions are all frequent natural disasters which occur in the Caribbean due to the
interactions between the Caribbean plate and its neighborly plates. Commented [G6]: Inserted: ,

The Pacific model begins with the breakup of Pangea and the related split of South
and North America, Maya and Chortis plates during the Triassic to Early Jurassic. The Mid- Commented [G7]: Inserted: the
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Oceanic crust ridge formed at multiple spreading centres as North America drifted away from
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Pangea during the Jurassic and Early Cretaceous forming the Gulf of Mexico and the Proto Commented [G9]: Inserted: -
Caribbean. The proto Antilles which is an east facing island arc was located NW-SE across the
western end of the proto Caribbean. The Caribbean plate was created west of this Caribbean
Great Arc. Migration across a plume whether it was the Galapagos Hot Spot, Sala y Gomez
plumes or both resulted in the Caribbean crust thickening to become an Ocean Plateau. The
Caribbean Plate then migrated between North and South America overriding Proto
Caribbean. Simultaneously, Chortis rotated southeastward into its Central America location.
The Caribbean Plate then continued to move eastward relative to North America and South
America from the Oligocene onwards. Recently, precisely 3 million years ago, the Isthmus of
Panama formed resulting in the Caribbean plate losing its connection to the Pacific ocean. Commented [G10]: Inserted: P
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The phrase In Situ means in the original place and thus the In Situ Caribbean Plate
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Model does not involve large-scale rotations but rather deals with the sinistral transtension Commented [G14]: Inserted: -
between North and South America. This model begins with the North West drifting of North
America from Gondwana during the Jurassic to Early Cretaceous. Maya and Chortis, as
mentioned in the Pacific model is said to have bordered the Caribbean plate to the west.
Venezuelan, Yucatan and Colombian Basins thickened as a result of the extension. The Pacific Commented [G15]: Inserted: e

model also states that the island arcs were formed as a result of the new spreading centres. Commented [G16]: Inserted: P
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Notably, North America migrated westward relative to the South American Plate causing
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subduction of the Lesser Antilles. This theory was supported using the Paleogene flysch and
wildflysch deposits which contained very large olistoliths of Mesozoic continental margin
sedimentary rocks, volcanic rocks, serpentinites and ophiolites formed along the plate
margins. While North America and South America continued to migrate westward the
Caribbean Plate remained stationary in other words "In Situ". Thrusting and complementary
Basins as well as pull apart basins were formed as a result strike-slip motion along the north
and south plate margins. The aforementioned volcanic activity can also be accounted for in
the Pacific model through the continued convergence between the Cocos Plate and Atlantic Commented [G18]: Inserted: P
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plate.
One of Pindells first arguments for the Pacific origin for the Caribbean Plate aligns
itself with the principle of Uniformitarianism whereby the Present is Key to The Past'. His
theory in support of the Pacific model states that the Caribbean plate is presently moving
eastward relative to North America which means that it must have migrated from the west.
The current orientation of the plates and the presence of magnetic anomalies as a result of
seafloor spreading in the Cayman Trough is indicative of the Caribbean Plate migrating
eastward toward North America. Subduction in the Lesser Antilles arc has been ongoing since
Eocene which aligns itself with the relative motion of the Americas. Additionally, the Commented [G25]: Deleted:l

diachronous juxtaposition of the two genetically unrelated suites of rocks exists Commented [G21]: Inserted: L
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predominantly throughout the Caribbean region such as the Jurassic to Late Cretaceous
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passive margin carbonate and the Upper Jurrasic to Cenozoic ultramafic assemblages support Commented [G23]: Inserted: s
the theory that the Caribbean Plate was moving eastward.Lastly, Pindell argued that the pre- Commented [G26]: Deleted:b

Albian space between North and South America was too small to have housed a (probably)
Jurassic Caribbean Plate which supports his theory that the Caribbean Plate migrated later on
the geological timescale.

James however has argued that timing of the Cayman Trough opening in the Pacific Commented [G27]: Inserted: a
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model does not coincide with geological data but rather a model and not factual science.
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Additionally, the Pacific model introduced the idea that Galapagos Hot Spot thickened the Commented [G39]: Deleted:p
Caribbean Plate however persons have argued that the Galapagos Hot Spot was located in Commented [G40]: Deleted: and is
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the west and the Caribbean Plate came from the south and therefore there is no correlation
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between the two. Another argument present against the Pacific model was that while the Commented [G31]: Inserted: ,
original Caribbean crust may have been formed during the Jurassic, the extension of crust Commented [G41]: Deleted:p
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may have continued until Late Cretaceous allowing accommodation space for the Caribbean
Plate. This, therefore, would challenge Pindells argument that the space between the North Commented [G32]: Inserted: ,
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and South America was too small to have housed a Jurassic Caribbean Plate.
Commented [G34]: Inserted: of crust
The In Situ Caribbean plate model begins its arguments for the In Situ by discussing Commented [G35]: Inserted: the
how improbable it is for the entry of the Island arc into the Caribbean during the Mesozoic. Commented [G36]: Inserted: P
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The argument against the Pacific model is that rotation of such an island arc is geometrically
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impossible due to small gap constraints. Similarly the In Situ model analyses the geometric Commented [G44]: Inserted: small
improbability of the entry of the Caribbean plate between the Americas and recognizes that Commented [G45]: Inserted: P
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it is impossible for the Caribbean plate to enter between the Americas without major plate
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deformation taking place. However, data does not support processes of plate deformation
but rather extensional processes only. The In Situ model can be further supported by the
presence of organic-rich cretaceous sediments which are indicative of Caribbean Atlantic
affinities and a Caribbean-Pacific Barrier. This illustrates that the late Cretaceous Caribbean
had a greater affinity to the Atlantic than to the Pacific. The aforementioned Mid Eocene Commented [G50]: Deleted:c

Flysch/Wildflysch deposits are present throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America Commented [G46]: Inserted: C
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in places such as Jamaica, Trinidad Puerto Rico, Central Venezuela, Barbados, Peru and even
Mexico, providing evidence for the In Situ Caribbean Model. Additionally, the regional pattern
of NE trending extensional faults formed during the Jurassic-Cretaceous in Middle America
illustrate that the Caribbean Plate was in place or in situ when they developed.

In conclusion, both plate models have some solid evidence to support their theories
and can be both taken into consideration when analyzing the evolution of the Caribbean
Plate. The in situ model incorporates regional geology to provide a simple answer as to how
the Caribbean Plate was found. The Pacific Model, on the other hand, is based upon scientific
models rather than actual physical evidence. In order to increase the accuracy of the Pacific
Model, the theories should be able to coincide with outcrops and seismic data to provide a
holistic approach. Thus, geologist should not just simply accept the Pacific model because it
is regarded by the Industry as the best model but rather analyse both models and propose Commented [G51]: Inserted: P
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new ideas and theory based upon geological and geophysical data.
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References:

TAL Caribbean Tectonic Model. Accessed September 20, 2017.


http://www.tectonicanalysis.com/site/caribbean/.

Giunta, Giuseppe, and Silvia Orioli. "The Caribbean Plate Evolution: Trying to Resolve a Very
Complicated Tectonic Puzzle." New Frontiers in Tectonic Research - General Problems,
Sedimentary Basins and Island Arcs, 2011. doi:10.5772/18723.

James, Keith H. "Arguments for and against the Pacific origin of the Caribbean Plate and
arguments for an in situ origin ." Caribbean Journal of Earth Science39 (2005).

Pindell, James L., and Stephen F. Barrett. "Geological evolution of the Caribbean region; A
plate-tectonic perspective." The Caribbean Region: 405-32. doi:10.1130/dnag-gna-h.405.