South China Sea Rifted Margin1
Published August 2018
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International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 367 is the first of two consecutive cruises that form the South China Sea Rifted Margin program. Expeditions 367 and 368 share the common key objectives of testing scientific hypotheses of breakup of the northern South China Sea (SCS) margin and comparing its rifting style and history to other nonvolcanic or magma-poor rifted margins. Four primary sites were selected for the overall program: one in the outer margin high (OMH) and three seaward of the OMH on distinct, margin-parallel basement ridges. These ridges are informally labeled A, B, and C within the continent–ocean transition (COT) zone going from the OMH to the steady-state oceanic crust of the SCS. The main scientific objectives include
- Determining the nature of the basement within critical crustal units across the COT of the SCS that are critical to constrain style of rifting,
- Constraining the time interval from initial crustal extension and plate rupture to the initial generation of igneous ocean crust,
- Constraining vertical crustal movements during breakup, and
- Examining the nature of igneous activity from rifting to seafloor spreading.
Expedition 367 successfully completed operations at two of the four primary sites (Site U1499 on Ridge A and Site U1500 on Ridge B). At Site U1499, we cored to 1081.8 m in 22.1 days, with 52% recovery, and then logged downhole data from 655 to 1020 m. In 31 days at Site U1500, we penetrated to 1529 m, cored a total of 1012.8 m with 37% recovery, and collected log data from 842 to 1133 m. At each site we drilled to reach the depth of the main seismic reflector (acoustic basement), which prior to the expedition had been interpreted to be crystalline basement. Our objective was to determine which lithospheric layer constitutes the basement of the COT and whether there was middle or lower continental crust or subcontinental lithospheric mantle exhumed in the COT before the final lithospheric breakup. At Site U1499, coring ~200 m into the acoustic basement sampled sedimentary rocks, including early Miocene chalks underlain by pre-Miocene polymict breccias and poorly cemented gravels composed of sandstone pebbles and cobbles. Preliminary structural and lithologic analysis suggested that the gravels might be early synrift to prerift sediment. At Site U1500, the main seismic reflector corresponds to the top of a basalt sequence at ~1379.1 m. We cored 149.90 m into this volcanic package, recovering 114.92 m (77%) of sparsely to moderately plagioclase-phyric basalt comprising numerous lava flows including pillow lavas with glass, chilled margins, altered veins, hyaloclastites, and minor sediment. Preliminary geochemical analyses show that the basalt is tholeiitic. We speculate that the basalt might belong to the very early stage of magmatism prior to steady-state seafloor spreading (known as an “embryonic ocean” regime).
Sampling of the Pleistocene to lower Miocene sedimentary section at Sites U1499 and U1500 was not continuous for two reasons. First, there was extremely poor recovery within substantial intervals interpreted to be poorly lithified sands. Second, we chose to drill down without coring in some sections at Site U1500 to ensure sufficient time to achieve this site’s high-priority deep objectives. Nevertheless, the upper Miocene basin sequence, consisting of interbedded claystone, siltstone, and sandstone, is continuous on seismic reflection profiles, and can be correlated between the two sites using both seismic reflectors and biostratigraphy. Together with results from other holes previously drilled in the SCS, these samples will help to constrain changes in paleoceanographic conditions during the Miocene in this part of the SCS basin.
1Sun, Z., Stock, J., Klaus, A., and the Expedition 367 Scientists, 2018. Expedition 367 Preliminary Report: South China Sea Rifted Margin. International Ocean Discovery Program. https://doi.org/10.14379/iodp.pr.367.2018