Schettino, A., and C. Macchiavelli (2016), Plate kinematics of the central Atlantic during the Oligocene and early Miocene, Geophysical Journal International, 205(1), 408-426, doi: 10.1093/gji/ggw022.
A new plate motions model for the northwest Africa-North America Plate pair during the Oligocene and early Miocene is presented. The model is accompanied by a high-resolution isochron map for the central Atlantic region, resulting from a re-examination of 423 ship tracks from the NGDC data base for the area between the 15°20' FZ and the Azores triple junction. A new digital model of fracture zones for this region and a set of 309 magnetic profiles crossing the Oligocene to recent oceanic crust within the study area allowed to determine accurate finite reconstruction poles for the North America-northwest Africa conjugate plate pair between the early Miocene (Chron 6) and the early Oligocene (Chron 13). For times older than Chron 7 (~25 Ma), the finite reconstruction poles were calculated using a reliable data set coming exclusively from the region south of the Canary Islands FZ (~32°N), which allowed to test the rigidity of the northwest African oceanic lithosphere during the Oligocene-early Miocene phase of Atlas orogeny. A comparison of theoretical magnetic isochrons with observed magnetic lineations systematically shows that anomalously high spreading rates occurred in the area north of the Canary Islands FZ before Chron 7, thereby suggesting that the formation of the Atlas mountain, rather than being a localized intracontinental process, was logically linked to the central Atlantic spreading history. Thus, an independent Moroccan Plate could have existed during the Oligocene-early Miocene time interval, which included both the oceanic lithosphere north of the Canary Islands FZ and the northern Maghrebian areas of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In this eventuality, the Atlas mountain belt should be reinterpreted as a giant flower structure associated with dextral transpression.