Ionian Abyssal Plain: a window into the Tethys oceanic lithosphere

Dannowski, Anke; Kopp, Heidrun; Klingelhoefer, Frauke; Klaeschen, Dirk; Gutscher, Marc-André; Krabbenhoeft, Anne; Dellong, David; Rovere, Marzia; Graindorge, David; Papenberg, Cord; Klaucke, Ingo

The nature of the Ionian Sea crust has been the subject of scientific debate for more than 30 years, mainly because seismic imaging of the deep crust and upper mantle of the Ionian Abyssal Plain (IAP) has not been conclusive to date. The IAP is sandwiched between the Calabrian and Hellenic subduction zones in the central Mediterranean. A NNE–SSW-oriented 131 km long seismic refraction and wide-angle reflection profile, consisting of eight ocean bottom seismometers and hydrophones, was acquired in 2014. The profile was designed to univocally confirm the proposed oceanic nature of the IAP crust as a remnant of the Tethys and to confute its interpretation as a strongly thinned part of the African continental crust. A P-wave velocity model developed from travel-time forward modelling is refined by gravimetric data and synthetic modelling of the seismic data. A roughly 6–7 km thick crust with velocities ranging from 5.1 to 7.2 km s−1, top to bottom, can be traced throughout the IAP. In the vicinity of the Medina seamounts at the southern IAP boundary, the crust thickens to about 9 km and seismic velocities decrease to 6.8 km s−1 at the crust–mantle boundary. The seismic velocity distribution and depth of the crust–mantle boundary in the IAP document its oceanic nature and support the interpretation of the IAP as a remnant of the Tethys lithosphere with the Malta Escarpment as a transform margin and a Tethys opening in the NNW–SSE direction.

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Dannowski, Anke / Kopp, Heidrun / Klingelhoefer, Frauke / et al: Ionian Abyssal Plain: a window into the Tethys oceanic lithosphere. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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