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Caribbean Plate Tectonics Defined by Global Positioning System (GPS) Network

Researchers: Guoquan Wang and Hanlin Liu, University of Houston; Glen S. Mattioli, M. Meghan Miller, and Karl Feaux, UNAVCO; and John Braun, UCAR.

Written by Linda Rowan
13 April 2020


A stable Caribbean reference frame 2018 (CARIB18) is developed for the Caribbean plate using long-term observations from 18 GPS stations along the margins of the plate. The results provide seven parameters for transforming positional time series from a global reference frame (IGS14) to a regional reference frame. CARIB18 is fundamental to study plate motions, earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, the water cycle and other earth processes within the Caribbean region.


The Caribbean plate is sandwiched between the North American and South American plates to the east and the Cocos, Nazca and North Andean plates to the west. Multiple complex plate boundaries contribute lots of earthquake and volcanic activity in the region. Much of the stable plate is under water and is called the Caribbean ocean plateau. Terrestrial areas where GPS stations have been installed for short to longer periods of time include an arc of islands along the north to northeast plate boundary and parts of Central to South America along the south to southwest plate boundary.

There are more than 250 GPS stations with three or more years of observations that are shared with the public through science and technology institutions in the Americas, including services provided by UNAVCO. Eighteen of these GPS stations located on the margins of the stable portion of the Caribbean plate were chosen to develop CARIB18.


A stable regional reference frame for the Caribbean plate, called CARIB18, consists of seven parameters for converting positional time series from a global to a regional reference frame. In addition, the three-dimensional site-velocities of 250 GPS stations with respect to CARIB18 are defined. CARIB18 is stable at a level of 0.7 millimeters per year in the horizontal directions and 0.9 millimeters per year in the vertical direction. CARIB18 will be used to understand plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, the water cycle and other earth processes.

Related Links

Related Data Links

  • UNAVCO GPS/GNSS Data Services

  • References

    CARIB18: A Stable Geodetic Reference Frame for Geological Hazard Monitoring in the Caribbean Region, Wang et al. Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 680; doi: 10.3390/rs11060680 .


    Caribbean, GPS, geological hazards, plate boundary zone, regional reference frame

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Last modified: 2020-04-13  15:17:31  America/Denver