Analogue experiments of salt flow and pillow growth due to basement faulting and differential loading
Abstract. Salt flow in sedimentary basins is mainly driven by differential loading and can be described by the concept of hydraulic head. A hydraulic head in the salt layer can be imposed by vertically displacing the salt layer (elevation head) or the weight of overburden sediments (pressure head). Basement faulting in salt-bearing extensional basins is widely acknowledged as a potential trigger for hydraulic heads and the growth of salt structures. In this study, scaled analogue experiments were designed to examine the kinematics of salt flow during the early evolution of a salt structure triggered by basement extension. In order to distinguish flow patterns driven by elevation head or by pressure head, we applied a short pulse of basement extension, which was followed by a long-lasting phase of sedimentation. During the experiments viscous silicone putty simulated ductile rock salt, and a PVC-beads/quartz-sand mixture was used to simulate a brittle supra-salt layer. In order to derive 2-D incremental displacement and strain patterns, the analogue experiments were monitored using an optical image correlation system (particle imaging velocimetry). By varying layer thicknesses and extension rates, the influence of these parameters on the kinematics of salt flow were tested. Model results reveal that significant flow can be triggered in the viscous layer by small-offset basement faulting. During basement extension downward flow occurs in the viscous layer above the basement fault tip. In contrast, upward flow takes place during post-extensional sediment accumulation. Flow patterns in the viscous material are characterized by channelized Poiseuille-type flow, which is associated with subsidence in regions of "salt" expulsion and surface uplift in regions of inflation of the viscous material. Inflation of the viscous material eventually leads to the formation of pillow structures adjacent to the basement faults (primary pillows). The subsidence of peripheral sinks adjacent to the primary pillow causes the formation of additional pillow structures at large distance from the basement fault (secondary pillows). The experimentally obtained structures resemble those of some natural extensional basins, e.g. the North German Basin or the Mid-Polish Trough, and can aid understanding of the kinematics and structural evolution of sedimentary basins characterized by the presence of salt structures.