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Book Chapter

Revisiting fundamental concepts of continental extension

Published:
January 01, 2007

Abstract

Depth-uniform stretching is not the dominant deformation process for thinning continental lithosphere leading to breakup; it cannot explain the observed depth-dependent lithosphere stretching and mantle exhumation at rifted continental margins. Depth-dependent lithosphere thinning, in which stretching of the lower crust and lithosphere mantle greatly exceeds that of the upper crust, has been observed at many non-volcanic and volcanic rifted continental margins including conjugate margin pairs. Passive continental margins show a paucity of brittle deformation in the upper crust during continental lithosphere thinning leading to breakup and sea-floor spreading initiation. A new model of rifted continental margin formation has been developed that assumes that deformation and thinning of continental lithosphere leading to breakup occurs in response to an upwelling divergent flow field within continental lithosphere and asthenosphere, and that this deformation evolves into sea-floor spreading. The new model successfully predicts depth-dependent stretching of continental margin lithosphere for both non-volcanic and volcanic margins and mantle exhumation at non-volcanic margins, both of which are observed, but are not explained, by existing depth-uniform continental lithosphere stretching models. The new model provides a balance of extensional strain, supplies an explanation for the paucity of synrift brittle deformation, and offers a simple transition from prebreakup lithosphere thinning to sea-floor spreading. The observed diversity of rifted continental margin structure and width of the ocean–continent transition can be explained by variability in the form of the upwelling divergent flow field. The new upwelling divergent flow model of continental lithosphere thinning leading to continental breakup successfully predicts the observed bathymetry and margin geometry for the most recent segment of sea-floor spreading initiation in the Woodlark Basin in the western Pacific, and the observed bathymetry and free air gravity anomaly for the Newfoundland and Iberian margins.

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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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