Geodetic constraints on active tectonics of the Western Mediterranean: Implications for the kinematics and dynamics of the Nubia-Eurasia plate boundary zone

Philippe Vernant*, Abdelali Fadil, Taoufik Mourabit, Driss Ouazar, Achraf Koulali, Jose Martin Davila, Jorge Garate, Simon McClusky, Robert Reilinger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


We present GPS observations in Morocco and adjacent areas of Spain from 15 continuous (CGPS) and 31 survey-mode (SGPS) sites extending from the stable part of the Nubian plate to central Spain. We determine a robust velocity field for the W Mediterranean that we use to constrain models for the Iberia-Nubia plate boundary. South of the High Atlas Mountain system, GPS motions are consistent with Nubia plate motions from prior geodetic studies. We constrain shortening in the Atlas system to <1.5 mm/yr, 95% confidence level. North of the Atlas Mountains, the GPS velocities indicate Nubia motion with respect to Eurasia, but also a component of motion normal to the direction of Nubia-Eurasia motion, consisting of southward translation of the Rif Mountains in N Morocco at rates exceeding 5 mm/yr. This southward motion appears to be directly related to Miocene opening of the Alboran Sea. The Betic Mountain system north of the Alboran Sea is characterized by WNW motion with respect to Eurasia at ∼1-2 mm/yr, paralleling Nubia-Eurasia relative motion. In addition, sites located in the Betics north of the southerly moving Rif Mountains also indicate a component of southerly motion with respect to Eurasia. We interpret this as indicating that deformation associated with Nubia-Eurasia plate motion extends into the southern Betics, but also that the Betic system may be affected by the same processes that are causing southward motion of the Rif Mountains south of the Alboran Sea. Kinematic modeling indicates that plate boundary geometries that include a boundary through the Straits of Gibraltar are most compatible with the component of motion in the direction of relative plate motion, but that two additional blocks (Alboran-Rif block, Betic Mountain block), independent of both Nubia and Eurasia are needed to account for the motions of the Rif and Betic Mountains normal to the direction of relative plate motion. We speculate that the southward motions of the Alboran-Rif and Betic blocks may be related to mantle flow, possibly induced by southward rollback of the subducted Nubian plate beneath the Alboran Sea and Rif Mountains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-129
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Geodynamics
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes


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