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We used laboratory experiments to simulate the early evolution of rift systems, and the influence of structural weaknesses left over from previous tectonic events that can localize new deformation. We find that the orientation and type of such weaknesses can induce complex structures with different orientations during a single phase of rifting, instead of requiring multiple rifting phases. These findings provide a strong incentive to reassess the tectonic history of various natural examples.
Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/se-2020-214
https://doi.org/10.5194/se-2020-214

  08 Jan 2021

08 Jan 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal SE.

Complex rift patterns, a result of interacting crustal and mantle weaknesses, or multiphase rifting? Insights from analogue models

Frank Zwaan1, Pauline Chenin2, Duncan Erratt2, Gianreto Manatschal2, and Guido Schreurs1 Frank Zwaan et al.
  • 1Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 1+3, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, ITES, UMR 7063, 5 rue Descartes, Strasbourg F-67084, France

Abstract. During lithospheric extension, localization of deformation often occurs along structural weaknesses inherited from previous tectonic phases. Such weaknesses may occur in both the crust and mantle, but the combined effects of these weaknesses on rift evolution remains poorly understood. Here we present a series of 3D brittle-viscous analogue models to test the interaction between differently oriented weaknesses located in the brittle upper crust and/or upper mantle. We find that crustal weaknesses usually express first at the surface with the formation of graben parallel to their orientation; then, structures parallel to the mantle weakness overprint them and often become dominant. Furthermore, the direction of extension exerts minimal control on rift trends when inherited weaknesses are present, which implies that present-day rift orientations are not always indicative of past extension directions. We also suggest that multiphase extension is not required to explain different structural orientations in natural rift systems. The degree of coupling between the mantle and upper crust affects the relative influence of the crustal and mantle weaknesses: low coupling enhances the influence of crustal weaknesses, whereas high coupling enhances the influence of mantle weaknesses. Such coupling may vary over time due to progressive thinning of the lower crustal layer, as well as due to variations in extension velocity. These findings provide a strong incentive to reassess the tectonic history of various natural examples.

Frank Zwaan et al.

Status: open (until 19 Feb 2021)

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Frank Zwaan et al.

Frank Zwaan et al.

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Short summary
We used laboratory experiments to simulate the early evolution of rift systems, and the influence of structural weaknesses left over from previous tectonic events that can localize new deformation. We find that the orientation and type of such weaknesses can induce complex structures with different orientations during a single phase of rifting, instead of requiring multiple rifting phases. These findings provide a strong incentive to reassess the tectonic history of various natural examples.
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