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Overview of tectonic settings related to the rifting and opening of Mesozoic ocean basins in the Eastern Tethys: Oman, Himalayas and Eastern Mediterranean regions

By
A. H. F. Robertson
A. H. F. Robertson
Grant Institute of Earth Science, School of GeoSciences
,
University of Edinburgh
,
Edinburgh EH9 3JW
,
UK
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Published:
January 01, 2007

Abstract

A combination of geophysical studies and deep-sea drilling have in the past suggested that orthogonally rifted margins fall into two end-members: volcanic-rifted margins (e.g. eastern Greenland) and non-volcanic rifted margins (e.g. Iberia–Newfoundland conjugate). This paper explores the rifted margins of the Eastern Tethys stretching from the Eastern Mediterranean, through Oman to the Himalayas. Rifting in these area was typically pulsed, extending over more than 50 Ma. The timing of final continental breakup ranged from Late Permian in the east, in Oman and the Himalayas, to latest Triassic–earliest Jurassic in many parts of the Eastern Mediterranean (e.g. Antalya in SW Turkey; Pindos in Greece). Rifting in the Himalayas and Oman gave rise to a proximal to a distal ramp geometry with scatted seamounts (continental fragments and atolls) located adjacent to the rifted margin. The Eastern Mediterranean was palaeogeographically varied, and was characterized by a number of mainly elongate continental fragments (tens to several hundreds of kilometres long by tens of kilometres wide). These microcontinents subdivided the Eastern Tethys in the Eastern Mediterranean region into several small ocean basins, which rifted at more or less the same time in latest Triassic–earliest Jurassic time.

All of the rifted margins of the Eastern Tethys are associated with rift-related volcanic rocks. However, with the exception of the Permian Panjal Traps in the Himalayas, the volumes of magma and corresponding thermal doming were less than for the ideal Volcanic-rifted margin (i.e. eastern Greenland). None of the Eastern Tethyan rifted margins show evidence of features characteristic of Non-volcanic rifted margins (e.g. sea-floor serpentinite exhumation), in contrast to the Iberia–Newfoundland conjugate or the Alps. Most of the Eastern Tethyan rifted margins appear to correspond to an ‘intermediate’ type, characterized by pulsed rifting, limited rift volcanism and a narrow continent–ocean transition zone. Such ‘intermediate-type’ rifted margins may remain to be explored in the modern oceans by deep-sea drilling.

There is little evidence to support previous suggestions that the Eastern Tethyan rifts can be considered as back-arc basins above either northward- or southward-dipping subduction zones.

Here it is suggested that the Eastern Tethys documents a fundamentally different type of rifting from either the ‘Volcanic-related’ or ‘Non-volcanic’ intracontinental rifts known from the Alps or the North Atlantic region.

The dominant controls of rifting are seen as the traction of rising asthenosphere on the base of the lithosphere, related deviatoric tensional stresses, inherited and thermally induced weaknesses in the crust, and slab-pull. Specifically, in the Eastern Tethyan region continental breakup was probably triggered by a combination of long-term asthenosphere flow, slab-pull related to subduction beneath Eurasia and melt-induced crustal weakening associated with pulsed rifting or plume effects. Final continental breakup corresponds to a major (‘Cimmerian’) convergent phase along the opposing Eurasia margin, which further supports the role of plate boundary forces in Eastern Tethyan rifting.

The early Mesozoic oceanic basins opened, probably associated with northwestward propagation of a spreading centre through the already weakened periphery of Gondwana, adjacent to less deformable Palaeotethyan oceanic crust.

After a lengthy period of passive margin subsidence, locally punctuated by crustal extension and related volcanism, or plume effects, the rifted margins were finally tectonically emplaced during mid-Mesozoic, late Mesozoic or early Cenozoic time in different areas.

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Contents

Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Imaging, Mapping and Modelling Continental Lithosphere Extension and Breakup

G. D. Karner
G. D. Karner
ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company, Houston, USA
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G. Manatschal
G. Manatschal
Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, France
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L. M. Pinheiro
L. M. Pinheiro
Universidade de Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal
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Geological Society of London
Volume
282
ISBN electronic:
9781862395305
Publication date:
January 01, 2007

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