Hotspot origin of the Mississippi embayment and its possible impact on contemporary seismicity


Previous authors have related the Late Cretaceous/early Tertiary subsidence of the Mississippi embayment to the opening of the Gulf of Mexico, but the Gulf opened earlier in Triassic/Jurassic time. We offer an alternative hypothesis that development of the embayment was coeval with the passage of the Mississippi Valley graben system over the Bermuda hotspot about 90 Ma. Several lines of evidence of significant uplift of the embayment axis accompanying mid-Cretaceous magmatism and prior to Late Cretaceous subsidence support this proposal. First, reactivation of the Pascola arch in the northern embayment is recorded by flanking deposits of basal Upper Cretaceous gravel. Second, beneath a regional mid-Cretaceous unconformity, subcrops of Jurassic and Early Cretaceous strata define a pronounced southwest-plunging arch in the southern embayment. This arch is collinear with an arch revealed in Paleozoic rocks after restoration to mid-Cretaceous structural geometries. Third, a deep weathering profile on mid-Cretaceous alkalic plutons along the western embayment margin is nonconformably overlain by Paleocene sediments, and rapid mid-Cretaceous cooling of these intrusions has been interpreted from apatite fission tracks. Moreover, exploratory holes along the embayment axis encountered similar weathered alkalic intrusions nonconformably overlain by basal Upper Cretaceous strata. Fourth, there was an anomalous influx of clastic sediment into the northern Gulf of Mexico during mid-Cretaceous time, and subsequent clastic facies patterns suggest the Mississippi River drainage began to enter the Gulf in the Late Cretaceous. Passage of the Mississippi Valley graben over the Bermuda hotspot during elevated hotspot activity of Cretaceous time may have significantly weakened the previously rifted lithosphere. Rifted continental margin at Charleston, South Carolina, also passed over this hotspot in latest Cretaceous time. Similarly, the St. Lawrence rift system passed over the Great Meteor hotspot during the Cretaceous. It is important to note that these rift systems are the principal loci of strong seismicity in eastern North America, and thus weakening by increased Cretaceous hotspot activity may be an important common factor for these seismic rift zones.

Publication Title

Engineering Geology