Competition between 3D structural inheritance and kinematics during rifting: insights from analogue models

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Frank Zwaan, Pauline Chenin , Duncan Erratt, Gianreto Manatschal , Guido Schreurs


The competition between the impact of inherited weaknesses and plate kinematics determines the location and style of deformation during rifting, yet the relative impacts of these “internal” and “external” factors remain poorly understood, especially in 3D. In this study we used brittle-viscous analogue models to assess how multiphase rifting, i.e., changes in plate divergence rate or direction, and the distribution of weaknesses in the competent mantle and crust influence rift evolution. We find that the combined reactivation of mantle and crustal weaknesses without kinematic changes creates complex rift structures. Divergence rates affects the strength of the weak lower crustal layer and hence the degree of mantle-crustal coupling. In this context slow rifting decreases coupling, so that crustal weaknesses can easily localize deformation and dominate surface structures, whereas fast rifting increases coupling so that deformation related to mantle weaknesses can have a dominant surface expression. Through a change from slow to fast rifting mantle-related deformation can overprint previous structures that formed along (differently oriented) crustal weaknesses. Conversely, a change from fast to slow rifting may shift deformation from mantle-controlled towards crust-controlled. When changing divergence directions, structures from the first rifting phase may control where subsequent deformation occurs, but only when they are well developed. Alternatively, they are ignored during subsequent rifting. We furthermore place our results in a larger framework of brittle-viscous rift modelling results from previous experimental studies, showing the importance of genral lithospheric layering, divergence rate, the type of deformation in the mantle, and finally upper crustal structural inheritance. The interaction between these parameters can lead to a large variety of deformation styles that may often lead to comparable end products. Therefore, detailed investigation of faulting and to an equal extent basin depocenter distribution over time is required to properly determine the evolution of complex rift systems. These insights provide a strong incentive to revisit various natural examples.



Physical Sciences and Mathematics


multiphase rifting, multiphase rifting, continental break-up, structural inheritance, continental break-up


Published: 2021-08-01 18:16

Last Updated: 2021-08-02 01:16


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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