Influence of zones of pre-existing crustal weakness on strain localization and partitioning during rifting: Insights from analogue modeling using high resolution 3D digital image correlation

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Edoseghe E. Osagiede, Matthias Rosenau, Atle Rotevatn, Robert Leslie Gawthorpe, Christopher Aiden-Lee Jackson , Michael Rudolf


The factors controlling the selective reactivation of pre-existing crustal structures and strain localization process in natural rifts have been studied for decades but remain poorly understood. We present the results of surface strain analysis of a series of analogue rifting experiments designed to test the influence of the size, orientation, depth, and geometry of pre-existing crustal weak zones on strain localization and partitioning. We apply distributed basal extension to crustal-scale models that consist of a silicone weak zone embedded in a quartz sand layer. We vary the size and orientation (θ-angle) of the weak zone with respect to the extension direction, reduce the thickness of the sand layer to simulate a shallow weak zone, and vary the geometry of the weak zone to reflect a range of anticlinal, either linear or curvilinear natural weak zone geometries. Our results show that at higher θ-angle (≤ 60o) both small- and large-scale weak zones localize strain into graben-bounding (oblique-) normal faults. At lower θ-angle (≤ 45o), small-scale weak zones do not localize strain effectively, unless they are shallow. We observe diffuse, second-order strike-slip internal graben structures, which are conjugate and antithetic under orthogonal and oblique extension, respectively. In general, the changing nature of the rift faults (from discrete fault planes to diffuse fault zones, from normal to oblique and strike-slip) highlights the sensitivity of rift architecture to the orientation, size, depth, and geometry of pre-existing weak zones. Our generic models are comparable to observations from many natural rift systems like the northern North Sea and East Africa, and thus have implications for understanding the role of structural inheritance in rift basins globally.



Earth Sciences, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


rifting, extension, transtension, digital image correlation


Published: 2021-07-15 05:20

Last Updated: 2021-10-12 09:39

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Data will be made openly available as soon as a peer-reviewed version has been published.

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