Marine Geophysical Researches

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 223–238 | Cite as

Magnetic zoning and seismic structure of the South China Sea ocean basin

  • Chun-Feng Li
  • Zuyi Zhou
  • Jiabiao Li
  • Bing Chen
  • Jianhua Geng
Original Research Paper


We made a systematic investigation on major structures and tectonic units in the South China Sea basin based on a large magnetic and seismic data set. For enhanced magnetic data interpretation, we carried out various data reduction procedures, including upward continuation, reduction to the pole, 3D analytic signal and power spectrum analyses, and magnetic depth estimation. Magnetic data suggest that the South China Sea basin can be divided into five magnetic zones, each with a unique magnetic pattern. Zone A corresponds roughly to the area between Taiwan Island and a relict transform fault, zone B is roughly a circular feature between the relict transform fault and the northwest sub-basin, and zones C, D, and E are the northwest sub-basin, the east sub-basin, and the southwest sub-basin, respectively. This complexity in basement magnetization suggests that the South China Sea evolved from multiple stages of opening under different tectonic settings. Magnetic reduction also fosters improved interpretation on continental margin structures, such as Mesozoic and Cenozoic sedimentary basins and the offshore south China magnetic anomaly. We also present, for the first time, interpretations of three new 2D reflection seismic traverses, which are of ~2,000 km in total length and across all five magnetic zones. Integration of magnetic and seismic data enables us to gain a better 3D mapping on the basin structures. It is shown that the transition from the southwest sub-basin to the east sub-basin is characterized by a major ridge formed probably along a pre-existing fracture zone, and by a group of primarily west-dipping faults forming an exact magnetic boundary between zones D and E. The northwest sub-basin has the deepest basement among the three main sub-basins (i.e., the northwest sub-basin, the southwest sub-basin, and the east sub-basin). Our seismic data also reveal a strongly faulted continent–ocean transition zone of about 100 km wide, which may become wider and dominated with magmatism or transit to an oceanic crust further to the northeast.


South China Sea Magnetic anomaly Seismic reflection 3D analytic signal Magnetic depth Continent–ocean transition zone 



Seismic data 973G were acquired by GMGS using vessel “Tanbo”, and lines ABC, DE, and FG were acquired with vessel “Shiyan-2” by SCSIO. We thank the officers and crew of these vessels for their contributions. Appreciations also go to Jialin Wang, Jiansheng Wu, and Huanjiang Chen for their support. GMT (Wessel and Smith 1995) and USGS potential field software (Phillips 1997) were used in mapping and data processing. This research is funded by Chinese Natural Science Foundation (Grants 40876022, 40776026, 40504016 and 40621063), and by National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program) (Grant 2007CB411702).


  1. Agarwal BNP, Shaw RK (1996) Comment on “An analytic signal approach to the interpretation of total field magnetic anomalies” by Shuang Qin. Geophys Prospect 44:911–914. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2478.1996.tb00180.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atchuta Rao D, Ram Babu HV, Sanker Narayan PV (1981) Interpretation of magnetic anomalies due to dikes: the complex gradient method. Geophysics 46:1572–1578. doi: 10.1190/1.1441164 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blakely RJ (1996) Potential theory in gravity and magnetic applications. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1–464Google Scholar
  4. Blakely RJ, Simpson RW (1986) Approximating edges of source bodies from magnetic or gravity anomalies. Geophysics 51:1494–1498. doi: 10.1190/1.1442197 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Briais A, Patriat P, Tapponnier P (1993) Updated interpretation of magnetic anomalies and seafloor spreading stages in the South China Sea: implications for the tertiary tectonics of Southeast Asia. J Geophys Res 98:6299–6328. doi: 10.1029/92JB02280 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Briggs IC (1974) Machine contouring using minimum curvature. Geophysics 39:39–48. doi: 10.1190/1.1440410 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clift P, Sun Z (2006) The sedimentary and tectonic evolution of the Yinggehai-Song Hong Basin and the southern Hainan margin, South China Sea; implications for Tibetan uplift and monsoon intensification. J Geophys Res 111. doi: 10.1029/2005JB004048 doi: 10.1029/2005JB004048
  8. Deschamps AE, Lallemand SE, Collot J-Y (1998) A detailed study of the Gagua ridge: a fracture zone uplifted during a plate reorganisation in the Mid-Eocene. Mar Geophys Res 20:403–423. doi: 10.1023/A:1004650323183 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dyment J, Arkani-Hamed J (1992) Spreading-rate-dependent magnetization of the oceanic lithosphere inferred from the anomalous skewness of marine magnetic anomalies. Geophys J Int 121:789–804. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.1995.tb06439.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Geological Survey of Japan and Coordinating Committee for Coastal and Offshore Geoscience Programmes in East and Southeast Asia (CCOP) (1996) Magnetic anomaly map of East Asia 1:4,000,000 CD-ROM version, digital geoscience map 2 (P-1)Google Scholar
  11. Hayes DE, Nissen SS (2005) The South China Sea margins: implications for rifting contrasts. Earth Planet Sci Lett 237:601–616. doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2005.06.017 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hsu S-K, Sibuet J-C (1995) Is Taiwan the result of arc-continent or arc-arc collision? Earth Planet Sci Lett 136:315–324. doi: 10.1016/0012-821X(95)00190-N CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hsu S-K, Sibuet J-C, Shyu C-T (1996) High-resolution detection of geological boundaries from potential-field anomalies: an enhanced analytic signal technique. Geophysics 61:373–386. doi: 10.1190/1.1443966 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hsu S-K, Liu C-S, Shyu C-T, Liu S-Y, Sibuet J-C, Lallemand S, Wang C-S, Reed D (1998) New gravity and magnetic anomaly maps in the Taiwan–Luzon region and their preliminary interpretation. Terrestrial. Atmos Ocean Sci 9:509–532Google Scholar
  15. Hsu S-K, Yeh Y-C, Doo W-B, Tsai C-H (2004) New bathymetry and magnetic lineations identifications in the northeasternmost South China Sea and their tectonic implications. Mar Geophys Res 25:29–44. doi: 10.1007/s11001-005-0731-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Huang C-Y, Xia K-Y, Yuan PB, Chen P-G (2001) Structural evolution from Paleogene extension to latest miocene-recent arc-continent collision offshore Taiwan: comparison with on land geology. J Asian Earth Sci 19:619–639. doi: 10.1016/S1367-9120(00)00065-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jin Q et al (1989) Geology and hydrocarbon resources of the South China Sea (in Chinese). Geological Press, Beijing, p 417Google Scholar
  18. Jin Z, Xu S, Li Z (2002) Inversion of heterogeneous magnetism for seamounts in the South China Sea (in Chinese). J Ocean Univ Qingdao 32:926–934Google Scholar
  19. Johnson HP, Carlson RL (1992) Variation of sea floor depth with age: a test of models based on drilling results. Geophys Res Lett 19:1971–1974. doi: 10.1029/92GL01946 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lee T-Y, Tang C-H, Ting J-S, Hsu Y-Y (1993) Sequence stratigraphy of the Tainan basin, offshore southwestern Taiwan. Petrol Geol Taiwan 28:119–158Google Scholar
  21. Li X (2006) Understanding 3D analytic signal amplitude. Geophysics 71:L13–L16. doi: 10.1190/1.2184367 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Li Q, Jian Z, Li B (2004) Oligocene-Miocene planktonic foraminifer biostratigraphy, Site 1148, Northern South China Sea. In: Prell WL, Wang P, Blum P, Rea DK, Clemens SC (eds) Proceedings of the ocean drilling program, scientific results 184, 1–26 (Online)Google Scholar
  23. Li C-F, Zhou Z, Li J, Chen H, Geng J, Li H (2007a) Precollisional tectonics and terrain amalgamation offshore southern Taiwan: characterizations from reflection seismic and potential field data. Science in China, series D. Earth Sci 50:897–908Google Scholar
  24. Li C-F, Zhou Z, Li J, Hao H, Geng J (2007b) Structures of the northeasternmost South China Sea continental margin and ocean basin: geophysical constraints and tectonic implications. Mar Geophys Res 28:59–79. doi: 10.1007/s11001-007-9014-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Li C-F, Zhou Z, Hao H, Chen H, Wang J, Chen B, Wu J (2008) Late Mesozoic tectonic structure and evolution along the present-day northeast South China Sea continental margin. J Asian Earth Sci 31:546–561. doi: 10.1016/j.jseaes.2007.09.004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lin AT, Watts AB, Hesselbow SP (2003) Cenozoic stratigraphy and subsidence history of the South China Sea margin in the Taiwan region. Basin Res 15:453–478. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2117.2003.00215.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mohan NL, Anand Babu L (1995) An analysis of 3-D analytic signal. Geophysics 60:531–536. doi: 10.1190/1.1443790 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nabighian MN (1972) The analytic signal of two-dimensional magnetic bodies with polygonal cross-section—its properties and use for automated anomaly interpretation. Geophysics 37:507–517. doi: 10.1190/1.1440276 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nabighian MN (1974) Additional comments on the analytic signal of two dimensional magnetic bodies with polygonal cross-section. Geophysics 39:85–92. doi: 10.1190/1.1440416 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nabighian MN (1984) Toward a three-dimensional automatic interpretation of potential field data via generalized Hilbert transforms—fundamental relations. Geophysics 49:780–786. doi: 10.1190/1.1441706 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ofoegbu CO, Mohan NL (1990) Interpretation of aeromagnetic anomalies over part of southeastern Nigeria using three dimensional Hilbert transformation. Pure Appl Geophys 134:13–29. doi: 10.1007/BF00878077 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pautot G, Rangin C, Briais A, Tapponnier P, Beuzart P, Lericolais G, Mathieu X, Wu J, Han S, Li H, Lu Y, Zhao J (1986) Spreading direction in the central South China Sea. Nature 321:150–154. doi: 10.1038/321150a0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Phillips JD (1997) Potential-field geophysical software for the PC, version 2.2. Open-file Rep US Geol Surv 97–725Google Scholar
  34. Roest WR, Verhoef J, Pilkington M (1992) Magnetic interpretation using the 3-D analytic signal. Geophysics 57:116–125. doi: 10.1190/1.1443174 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ru K, Pigott JD (1986) Episodic rifting and subsidence in the South China Sea. AAPG Bull 70:1136–1155Google Scholar
  36. Salem A, Ravat D, Gamey TJ, Ushijima K (2002) Analytic signal approach and its applicability in environmental magnetic applications. J Appl Geophys 49:231–244. doi: 10.1016/S0926-9851(02)00125-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shi X, Qiu X, Xia K, Zhou D (2003) Characteristics of surface heat flow in the South China Sea. J Asian Earth Sci 22:265–277. doi: 10.1016/S1367-9120(03)00059-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sibuet J-C, Hsu S-K, Le Pichon X, Le Formal J-P, Reed D, Moore G, Liu C-S (2002) East Asia plate tectonics since 15 Ma: constraints from the Taiwan region. Tectonophysics 344:103–134. doi: 10.1016/S0040-1951(01)00202-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Taylor B, Hayes DE (1980) The tectonic evolution of the South China Sea. In: Hayes DE (ed) The tectonic and geologic evolution of South Eastern Asian Seas and Islands, I. Geophysical monograph 23. American Geophysical Union, Washington, pp 89–104Google Scholar
  40. Taylor B, Hayes DE (1983) Origin and history of the South China Sea basin. In: Hayes DE (ed) The tectonic and geologic evolution of South Eastern Asian Seas and Islands, II. Geophysical monograph 27. American Geophysical Union, Washington, pp 23–56Google Scholar
  41. Tsai C-H, Hsu S-K, Yeh Y-C, Lee C-S, Xia K (2004) Crustal thinning of the northern continental margin of the South China Sea. Mar Geophys Res 25:63–78. doi: 10.1007/s11001-005-0733-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Turcotte DL, Schubert G (2002) Geodynamics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 456Google Scholar
  43. Tzeng J (1994) Tertiary seismic stratigraphic analysis of the Tainan basin (in Chinese). M.S. thesis. National Taiwan University, 102 ppGoogle Scholar
  44. Wang P, Prell WL, Blum P, Arnold EM, Buehring CJ, Chen M-P, Clemens SC, Clift PD, Colin CJG, Farrell JW, Higginson MJ, Jian Z, Kuhnt W, Laj CE, Lauer-Leredde C, Leventhal JS, Li A, Li Q, Lin J, McIntyre K, Miranda CR, Nathan SA, Shyu J-P, Solheid PA, Su X, Tamburini F, Trentesaux A, Wang L (2000) Proceedings of the ocean drill program, Initial Rep 184. College station, ocean drilling program, TXGoogle Scholar
  45. Wang TK, Chen M-K, Lee C-S, Xia K (2006) Seismic imaging of the transitional crust across the northeastern margin of the South China Sea. Tectonophysics 412:237–245. doi: 10.1016/j.tecto.2005.10.039 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wessel P, Smith WHF (1995) New version of the generic mapping tools (GMT) version 3.0 released. Trans Am Geophys Union EOS 76:329. doi: 10.1029/95EO00198 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Yan P, Deng H, Liu H, Zhang Z, Jiang Y (2006) The temporal and spatial distribution of volcanism in the South China Sea region. J Asian Earth Sci 27:647–659. doi: 10.1016/j.jseaes.2005.06.005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yao B (1995) Characteristics and tectonic significance of the Zhongnan-Liyue fault. Geological research of the South China Sea (in Chinese). Memoir 7:1–14Google Scholar
  49. Yao B, Zeng W, Hayes DE, Spangler S et al (1994) The geological memoir of South China Sea surveyed jointly by China and USA (in Chinese). China University of Geosciences Press, Beijing, p 204Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chun-Feng Li
    • 1
  • Zuyi Zhou
    • 1
  • Jiabiao Li
    • 2
  • Bing Chen
    • 1
  • Jianhua Geng
    • 1
  1. 1.State Laboratory of Marine GeologyTongji UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.2nd Institute of Oceanography, State Oceanic AdministrationZhejiangChina

Personalised recommendations