Cenozoic tectonic events and their implications for constraining the structure and stratigraphic styles from rifting to collision at the southeastern margin of the South China Sea

  • Dianjun TongEmail author
  • Jianye Ren
  • Yuantao Liao
  • Yongjian Yao
  • Yanghui Zhao
Original Research Paper


The southeastern margin of the South China Sea (SCS) connects the Southwest sub-basin of the SCS to the north and the collision zone of NanshaLiyue blocks and Palawan Island to the south, and it records a complex process of the superimposed regional tectonics. Based on recently collected 2D seismic profiles, constraint by wells and outcrop data, our study establishes a stratigraphic framework across different structural units related to various tectonic settings. We identified six major unconformities from the Cenozoic sediment succession and analyzed their geological significance through a comprehensive interpretation of the regional seismic profiles and related well data. Results show the unconformity T7 represents the cessation of the initial rifting along the whole continental margin, which corresponds to the N-S spreading in the central part of the SCS oceanic basin. Reflector T4 is the breakup unconformity that represents the structural evolution transitioning from rifting to post-rifting in the study area. It also synchronizes with the initial deposition of the Nido carbonate platform. Reflector T3 is the most significant regional structural unconformity that corresponds to the cessation of seafloor spreading in the Southwest sub-basin and collision between the NanshaLiyue blocks and the Cagayan Arc, choking the proto-SCS subduction zone. These tectonic events, also referred to as Sabah Orogeny, indicate the inception of peripheral foreland basin developed from northwest Palawan to the Reed Bank. Major tectonic events recorded in the study area include southward subduction and closure of the proto-SCS as well as opening and cessation of ridge spreading of the SCS, all of which lead to the NanshaLiyueNorth Palawan blocks successively rifting from the South China continent, subsequently drifting southward and ultimately colliding with the Cagayan volcanic arc. Therefore, we propose that the southeastern margin of the SCS has undergone a multi-stage tectonic evolution from the rifting basin through the post-rifting depression to the collisional foreland basin in the Cenozoic.


Stratigraphic framework Structural unconformity Tectonic event Tectonic transition South China Sea 



This manuscript benefited from the thoughtful and constructive reviews of Xinong Xie, Chao Lei and three anonymous reviewers. We especially thank the journal editor Wu-Cheng Chi for the detailed and impartial comments. This study was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 91528301, 41102071, 41830537), National Science and Technology Major Project (Grant Nos. 2016ZX05026–004–003, 2017ZX05026–005), and National Programme on Global Change and Air-Sea Interaction (GASI–GEOGE–02). We would like to acknowledge Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey for providing geophysical data.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Marine Sciences and TechnologyChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  2. 2.Guangzhou Marine Geological SurveyGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Submarine Geosciences, Second Institute of OceanographyState Oceanic AdministrationHangzhouChina

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