Datapages, Inc.Print this page

ABSTRACT: The Tectonic Evolution of the Greater South China Sea

Dennis E. Hayes

The South China Sea (SCS) basin is composed of two major subbasins. The eastern subbasin was formed by seafloor spreading in the middle Tertiary and is associated with roughly E-W-trending magnetic lineations. The southwestern subbasin of the South China Sea is characterized by NE-SW tectonic and magnetic trends and is considerably narrower than the eastern subbasin. There is no obvious structural discontinuity between the two subbasins; hence the initial opening of the eastern subbasin was likely accommodated to the west by a prolonged period of extension of the continental crust that was not accompanied by the formation of normal oceanic crust. The southwest subbasin was eventually also formed by seafloor spreading processes. Although the sequence of magnetic lineations recorded there is relatively short, these data coupled with heatflow and crustal depth data strongly suggest that the southwestern subbasin was not formed until the early-middle Miocene, coincident with the last phase of spreading in the adjacent eastern subbasin. It is still unclear whether or not a significant change in spreading direction occurred within the SCS basin during the early Miocene.

The geometry of the deep SCS basin as defined by the seaward limit of the continent-ocean boundary zone provides important constraints on the east-to-west variations in the total crustal extension manifested in the rifted margins of the South China Sea. The amount of new oceanic crust created by seafloor spreading plus the amount of crustal extension accommodated within the continental crust must be nearly the same for all points along the rifled margins. Because the amount of oceanic crust present is quite variable, it follows that the amount of crustal extension must be similarly variable and in a predictable way.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90097©1990 Fifth Circum-Pacific Energy and Mineral Resources Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii, July 29-August 3, 1990