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Russian Geology and Geophysics

2007 year, number 12


E.V. Artyushkov
Institute of the Physics of the Earth, Russian Academy of Sciences, 10 ul. Bol'shaya Gruzinskaya, Moscow, 123810, Russia
Keywords: Crustal structure; crustal subsidence; phase change; lithospheric rheology; seismicity; subduction; South Caspian basin
Pages: 1002-1014


The large hydrocarbon basin of South Caspian is filled with sediments reaching a thickness of 20-25 km. The sediments overlie a 10-18 km thick high-velocity basement which is often interpreted as oceanic crust. This interpretation is, however, inconsistent with rapid major subsidence in Pliocene-Pleistocene time and deposition of ~ >10 km of sediments because the subsidence of crust produced in spreading ridges normally occurs at decreasing rates. Furthermore, filling a basin upon a 10-18 km thick oceanic crust would require twice less sediments. Subsidence as in the South Caspian, of ≥20 km, can be provided by phase change of gabbro to dense eclogite in a 25-30 km thick lower crust. Eclogites which are denser than the mantle and have nearly mantle P velocities but a chemistry of continental crust may occur beneath the Moho in the South Caspian where consolidated crust totals a thickness of 40-50 km. The high subsidence rates in the Pliocene-Pleistocene may be attributed to the effect of active fluids infiltrated from the asthenosphere to catalyze the gabbro-eclogite transition. Subsidence of this kind is typical of large petroleum provinces. According to some interpretations, historic seismicity with 30-70 km focal depths in a ~100 km wide zone (beneath the Apsheron-Balkhan sill and north of it) has been associated with the initiation of subduction under the Middle Caspian. The consolidated lithosphere of deep continental sedimentary basins being denser than the asthenosphere, can, in principle, subduct into the latter, while the overlying sediments can be delaminated and folded. Yet, subduction in the South Caspian basin is incompatible with the only 5-10 km shortening of sediments in the Apsheron-Balkhan sill and south of it and with the patterns of earthquake foci that show no alignment like in a Benioff zone and have mostly extension mechanisms