Since 1982 we have developed and refined tectonic models for the Caribbean region and surrounding areas such as the Gulf of Mexico, the Andes and the margins of the Equatorial Atlantic. Our most recent systhesis will be published in a forthcoming Geological Society of London Special Publication, and this paper is the basis of the movie presented below.
The highlight of this work is a series of palaeotectonic maps drawn in an Indo-Atlantic hotspot reference frame. Although based on the work of Müller et al. (1993), there is no substantial difference for Late Cretaceous and younger time compared to recently published hybrid reference frames such as that of Torsvik et al. (2008).
About the movie:
The first step in making the movie is to develop a robust kinematic framework for relative motions of North America, South America and Africa. Geologic data, such as geochronology, metamorphic petrology, structural observations, basin analysis of diachronous foreland basins, from around the Caribbean are then used to put the Caribbean Plate into position with respect to the Americas. While it is now widely recognised that there is no global fixed hotspot reference, it still appears that over large areas hotspots drift only relatively slowly with respect to each other, and that Pacific and Indo-Atlantic hotspots can be used to define two more or less hemispheric reference frames which move respect to each other. The final step applied here is to plot the resulting maps in a fixed Indo-Atlantic hotspot reference frame (here we use Müller et al., 1993). Although the maps could have been plotted in any alternative reference frame (such as fixed North America), these maps serve to emphasize that, at least since the Late Cretaceous, the Caribbean Plate has been more or less fixed with respect to the Indo-Atlantic hotspot reference frame, and that it is the westward flight of the Americas during Pangea breakup, rather than eastward motion of the Caribbean Plate with respect to the former core of Pangea, that drove the development of the Caribbean Plate boundaries.
The bold orange lines show the approximate shapes of the continental-ocean boundaries of the North American and South American Plates. The bold grey line is the outline of the present day deep Caribbean Basin. The blue areas are oceanic crust which is subducted before the next youngest frame. The pink shape delineates a slab gap which must have developed where the Campanian and older spreading centre in the Proto-Caribbean Seaway (connected to the Atlantic) was subducted beneath the Antilles. The green areas show possible plume-related volcanic centres.