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During the last 20 years, regional studies on the West Iberia margin and on the former margins of the Tethys have considerably advanced the understanding of processes related to continental break-up and the onset of sea-floor spreading. However, some questions remain outstanding. To tentatively answer these, a coherent interpretation of available data is proposed, based on the detachment fault concept applied to the continental as well as the oceanic lithosphere, and on the hypothesis of a multi-staged rifting process. The interpretation addresses the nature of the lower crust beneath non-volcanic passive margins, the origin of ophicalcites, the probable time gap between syn- or post-rift crystallization of gabbros and extrusion of basalts on the sea floor, and the significance of dipping reflectors within oceanic lithosphere adjacent to non-volcanic passive margins. The interpretation also considers the symmetry v. asymmetry of continental rifting and break-up, the location of the ocean–continent boundary, and the possible association of magnetic quiet zones with ultramafic sea floor (serpentinized peridotite) bordering non-volcanic passive margins.

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