Crustal thinning of the northern continental margin of the South China Sea

Ching Hui Tsai, Shu Kun Hsu, Yi Ching Yeh, Chao Shing Lee, Kanyuan Xia

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Magnetic data suggest that the distribution of the oceanic crust in the northern South China Sea (SCS) may extend to about 21 °N and 118.5 °E. To examine the crustal features of the corresponding continent-ocean transition zone, we have studied the crustal structures of the northern continental margin of the SCS. We have also performed gravity modeling by using a simple four-layer crustal model to understand the geometry of the Moho surface and the crustal thicknesses beneath this transition zone. In general, we can distinguish the crustal structures of the study area into the continental crust, the thinned continental crust, and the oceanic crust. However, some volcanic intrusions or extrusions exist. Our results indicate the existence of oceanic crust in the northernmost SCS as observed by magnetic data. Accordingly, we have moved the continent-ocean boundary (COB) in the northeastern SCS from about 19 °N and 119.5 °E to 21 °N and 118.5 °E. Morphologically, the new COB is located along the base of the continental slope. The southeastward thinning of the continental crust in the study area is prominent. The average value of crustal thinning factor of the thinned continental crust zone is about 1.3-1.5. In the study region, the Moho depths generally vary from ca. 28 km to ca. 12 km and the crustal thicknesses vary from ca. 24 km to ca. 6 km; a regional maximum exists around the Dongsha Island. Our gravity modeling has shown that the oceanic crust in the northern SCS is slightly thicker than normal oceanic crust. This situation could be ascribed to the post-spreading volcanism or underplating in this region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-78
Number of pages16
JournalMarine Geophysical Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Continental margin
  • Crustal structure
  • Crustal thinning
  • Gravity modeling
  • South China sea


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