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The boundary between the North American and Caribbean plates is characterized primarily by left-lateral motion along predominantly east-west striking faults. Seismicity and marine geophysical survey data are consistent with at least two, and possibly three, microplates in the diffuse boundary zone in the northeastern Caribbean: (1) the Gonave, (2) the Hispaniola, and (3) the Puerto Rico-northern Virgin Islands (PRVI). We discuss results from GPS geodetic measurements acquired since 1994 to test the microplate hypothesis, define PRVI translation and rotation within the boundary zone, and constrain PRVI neotectonics. GPS-derived velocities are analyzed with respect to both North American and Caribbean plate reference frames. Integrated displacements across PRVI are limited to a few millimeters per year, consistent with a rigid PRVI and permitting calculation of an average velocity for PRVI. The motions of PRVI relative to North America and the Caribbean are 16.9±1.1 mm/yr toward N68°E±3° (1σ) and 2.4±1.4 mm/yr toward S79°W±26° (1σ), respectively. In contrast with some recent models, ongoing rotation of PRVI about a nearby (< 25° distant) vertical axis is not supported by the geodetic data. In addition, we argue against eastward tectonic escape of PRVI and favor a simple, progressive increase in velocity across the plate boundary zone, requiring that the summed magnitude of strike-slip fault slip rates will equal the total plate motion rate between the Caribbean and North America. GPS data are consistent with components of left-lateral strike-slip faulting along the Muertos trough south of Puerto Rico and shortening across the Puerto Rico trench. Comparison of GPS velocities for PRVI with respect to North America with total North America-Caribbean relative motion suggests up to 85% of North American-Caribbean plate motion is accommodated by the Puerto Rico trench and offshore faults north of Puerto Rico. Differences in GPS-derived velocities from Hispaniola and PRVI yield east-west extension across the N-S trending Mona rift of a few millimeters per year when estimated elastic strain accumulation effects along the north Hispaniola deformed belt and the Septentrional fault zone are considered. The opening rate implies an age of the Mona rift of 2–3 million years, agreeing with marine geophysical data that support a young age for the structure.

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Tectonics, v. 19, issue 6, p. 1021-1037

Copyright 2000 by the American Geophysical Union.