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Quantitative models, which predict the structural and thermal evolution of sedimentary basins and margins, can be used to extracted information from subsidence data derived from discrete and noisy stratigraphie records. Although many basin-modelling algorithms exist, most of them solve the forward problem and many assume that rifting is instantaneous. A 2-D optimization strategy, which calculates spatial and temporal variation of strain rate, is outlined. This general approach should help to elucidate the dynamical evolution of sedimentary basins but it also addresses three issues of interest to the hydrocarbon industry. First, the residual misfit between observed and predicted basin geometries allows competing structural and stratigraphie interpretations to be objectively tested. Second, the animated evolution of sedimentary basin and passive continental margins can be produced using the retrieved strain-rate tensor. Thirdly, spatial and temporal variations of strain rate control basal heat flow, which in turn constrains the temperature and maturation histories of the sedimentary pile. Here, a small selection of 2-D results are presented and the basis of a 3-D formulation is described.

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