Fault systems in extensional basins commonly display geometries that vary with depth, reflecting depth- and lithology-dependent mechanical strength. Using an experimental approach, we investigate this relationship by deploying physical analog models with stratified sequences consisting of brittle–ductile (sand–silicone polymer) sequences subject to single and polyphase deformation. The experiments were used as analogs for a sandstone sequence interlayered by beds of evaporates or overpressured or unconsolidated mudstone in nature (the latter being representative of decollement horizons).

Experiments (series 1 [S1]) using homogeneous and stratified quartz and feldspar sand produced asymmetric, composite single grabens with diverse fault frequencies and fault styles for the graben margin faults.

For the mechanically stratified experiments with one decollement level (series 2), contrasting graben configurations were produced, in that the lowermost sequence was characterized by graben geometries of similar type to that of the S1 experiments, whereas the sequence above the decollement was characterized by large fault blocks, delineated by steepened or oversteepened faults.

The experiments with two decollements (series 3) were displayed similarly but included graben geometries that widened upward, with each level being characterized by independent fault systems.

The results can be used to explain strata-bound fault patterns and depth-dependent extension as seen in several places along the Norwegian continental margin and elsewhere.

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