How do variably striking faults reactivate during rifting? Insights from southern Malawi

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: This is version 4 of this Preprint.


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Jack Williams, Ake Fagereng, Luke Nicholas John Wedmore, Juliet Biggs, Felix Mphepo, Zuze Dulanya, Hassan Mdala, Tom Blenkinsop 


This manuscript is a post-print deposited on the EarthArXiv platform that has been published in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. Crustal extension is commonly thought to be accommodated by faults that strike orthogonal and obliquely to the regional trend of the minimum compressive stress (σ3). Activation of oblique faults can, however, be conceptually problematic as under Andersonian faulting, it requires preexisting crustal weaknesses, high fluid pressures, and/or stress rotations. Furthermore, measurements of incremental fault displacements, which are typically used to identify oblique faulting, do not necessarily reflect regional stresses. Here, we assess oblique faulting by calculating the stress ratio (σ3/σ1, where σ1 is the maximum compressive stress), slip tendency, and effective coefficient of friction (μs’) required to reactivate variably striking normal faults under different trends of σ3. We apply this analysis to NW and NNE striking active faults at the southern end of the Malawi Rift, where NE-SW, ENE-WSW, E-W, and SE-NW σ3 trends have previously been proposed. A uniform σ3 trend is inferred for this region as recent joints sets do not rotate along the rift. With a NE-SW trending σ3, NW-striking faults are well oriented, however, NNE-striking faults require μs’<0.6 to reactivate. This is inconsistent with a lack of frictionally weak phyllosilicates detected in the fault zone rocks. With an ENE-WSW to E-W trending σ3, all faults can reactivate at μs’>0.55. These σ3 trends are also comparable to a focal mechanism stress inversion, regional joint orientations, and previously reported geodetically-derived extension directions. We therefore conclude that unlike typical models of oblique rifting, the southern Malawi Rift consists of faults that all strike slightly oblique to σ3.



Earth Sciences, Geology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Normal faults, fault reactivation, Tectonic stress, East African Rift, Continental rift, Stress inversion


Published: 2019-01-22 07:17

Last Updated: 2019-07-19 06:03

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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