Trans Isthmus Costa Rica Scientific Exploration of a Crustal Transect

The TICOSECT program aims to investigate the crustal structure of the active continental margin of Costa Rica and to understand the geodynamic processes within the subduction system. With the help of a comprehensive wide-angle seismic data set, composed of an onshore/offshore experiment as well as refraction measurements on land in northern Costa Rica, the lithospheric structure from the Middle America Trench (MAT) to the Caribbean lowland have been modelled. The cross-section includes also the ophiolitic Nicoya complex and the volcanic arc. The modelling yields an angle of about 6 degrees off-shore for the subduction of the Cocos plate beneath the Caribbean plate. Below the Nicoya peninsula the subduction angle steepens to ca. 20 degrees and the subducting Cocos plate can be identified down to 50 km depth. The velocity distribution at the margin wedge indicates that there is no sedimentary accretion. Rather, the velocities suggest that the wedge is built up from material of the Nicoya complex which forms the landmass of the Nicoya peninsula. In the eastern part of the Nicoya peninsula lateral velocity gradients within the upper and upper-lower crust indicate a transition between two different crustal blocks, which have been juxtaposed together, thus forming a border of the ophiolitic Nicoya body. In the area of the volcanic arc a low velocity body, possibly containing some percentage of magma, can be observed at about 10 km depth. At depths greater than 10 km in the Caribbean plate the velocities between 6.6 km/s and 7.4 km/s possibly represent a crust formed mainly by mafic intrusive material. Evidence for Caribbean plate mantle material is found at depths of about 40 km.

Time Frame

  • Spring 95 & 96

Principal Investigators

  • Ernst R. Flüh (GEOMAR Kiel)
  • Roland von Huene (GEOMAR Kiel)
  • Manfred Strecker (University of Potsdam)
  • James Mechie (GFZ Potsdam)
  • Hildegard Gödde (GFZ Potsdam)


  • Gail Christeson and Kirk McIntosh (University of Texas, Austin)
  • German Leandro (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, San Jose)
  • Valenti Sallares and Juan Jose Danobeitia (Institute of Earth Sciences, Barcelona)
  • Gerhard Woerner (University of Göttingen)
  • Martin Meschede (University of Tübingen)
  • Hartmut Seyfried (University of Stuttgart)

Methods & Equipment

  • Wide-angle seismic measurements (onshore/offshore and land experiments) using 20 Ocean-Bottom-Hydrophones and -Seismometers (OBH/OBS), 27 (60) PDAS-100 recorders of the GIPP


  • Gödde, H. (1999): Die Krustenstrukturen am konvergenten Plattenrand Costa Ricas : refraktionsseismische Messungen und ihre geologisch-geodynamische Interpretation, Scientific Technical Report ; 99/17, GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, 95.| EDOC: 3752  |