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Thermo-mechanical modeling demonstrates that tectonically induced vertical motions of the lithosphere may provide an explanation for third-order cycles in apparent sea level deduced from the seismic stratigraphic record of passive margins. The interaction of fluctuations in intraplate stresses and the deflection of the lithosphere caused by sedimentary loading can produce apparent sea-level changes of as much as 100m at the flanks of passive margins.

In general, stress variations of a few hundred bars associated with local adjustment of stresses at passive margins suffice to explain a significant part of the stratigraphic record associated with short-term variations in sea level on the order of a few tens of meters. To induce short-term apparent sea-level fluctuations with magnitudes on the order of 50m or more, which occur less frequently in the record, changes in stress level in excess of one kbar are required. These larger fluctuations in apparent sea level could be related to major reorganizations of lithospheric stress fields due to rifting and fragmentation of plates, dynamic changes at convergent plate boundaries, or collision processes. A fluctuating horizontal stress field in the lithosphere can explain contemporaneous changes in apparent sea level in neighboring depositional environments. In principle, it implies the possibility of regional correlations in different basin settings. Specific short-term fluctuations in the curves of Vail and others, (1977; 1984) can be associated with particular plate tectonic reorganizations of lithospheric stress fields. The seismic stratigraphic record may provide a new source of information on paleo-stress fields which can be correlated with results of independent numerical modeling of intraplate stresses.

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