Recent ultradeep exploration in the northern Gulf of Mexico has revealed a broad diffuse zone of salt-cored folding beneath the present continental shelf. This zone is a pillow fold belt, where salt pillows grew halokinetically and were then mildly shortened. Below the Louisiana shelf, a contractional early-to-late Miocene pillow fold belt is separated by a partly welded canopy from an overlying early Miocene–to–Pliocene extensional system. This anomalous juxtaposition raises two paradoxes: (1) Why was mid-Miocene shortening close to the Miocene shelf break, where extension is expected? and (2) Why did shortening below the canopy overlap in time with extension above the canopy?
Coastal uplift can explain both paradoxes. Cenozoic uplift and exhumation of the north rim of the Gulf of Mexico created the observed coastal offlap and truncation around the rim. Uplift tilted the continental margin and overpowered the influence of the paleoshelf break, causing shortening much farther updip than before uplift. Physical models confirm that this hypothesis is mechanically sound. Our other models had two stacked detachments, each pinned in different locations. Because of this, deep shortening below the canopy was coeval with shallow extension above the canopy. The deep detachment was pinned far inland, equivalent to the uplifted continental interior. Extension above this deep detachment was partly balanced by shortening far downdip to form a pillow fold belt where a network of thrusts linked the squeezed pillows. In contrast, the shallow extensional system above the canopy was pinned farther seaward, equivalent to the upper continental slope.