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The influence of pre-rift crustal heterogeneity and structure on the evolution of a continental rift and its subsequent passive margin is explored. The absence of thick Aptian salts in the Namibian South Atlantic allows imaging of sufficient resolution to distinguish different pre-rift basement seismic facies. Aspects of the pre-rift basement geometry were characterized and compared with the geometries of the Cretaceous rift basin structure and with subsequent post-rift margin architectural elements. Half-graben depocentres migrated westwards within the continental synrift phase at the same time as basin-bounding faults became established as hard-linked arrays with lengths of c. 100 km. The rift–drift transition phase, marked by seaward-dipping reflectors, gave way to the early post-rift progradation of clastic sediments off the Namibian coast. In the Late Cretaceous, these shelf clastic sediments were much thicker in the south, reflecting the dominance of the newly formed Orange River catchment as the main entry point for sediments on the South African–Namibian margin. Tertiary clastic sediments largely bypassed the pre-existing shelf area, revealing a marked basinwards shift in sedimentation. The thickness of post-rift megasequences does not vary simply according to the location of synrift half-graben and thinned continental crust. Instead, the Namibian margin exemplifies a margin influenced by a complex interplay of crustal thinning, pre-rift basement heterogeneity, volcanic bodies and transient dynamic uplift events on the evolution of lithospheric strain and depositional architecture.

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