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The initiation, growth and interaction of faults within an extensional rift is an inherently four-dimensional process where connectivity with time and depth are difficult to constrain. A 3D discrete element model is employed that represents the crust as a two-layered brittle–ductile system in which faults nucleate, propagate and interact in response to local heterogeneities and resulting stresses. Faults nucleate in conjugate sets throughout the model brittle crust; they grow through a combination of tip propagation and interaction of co-linear segments to form larger normal faults. Segment linkage occurs by merging of adjacent fault segments located along strike, downdip or oblique to one another. Finally, deformation localizes onto the largest faults. Displacement distribution on faults is highly variable with marked along-strike and temporal variations in displacement rates. Displacement maxima continuously migrate as smaller fault segments interact and link to form the final fault plane. As a result, displacement maxima associated with fault nucleation sites are not coincident with the location of the maximum finite displacement on a fault where segment linkage overprints the record. The observed style of fault growth is consistent with the isolated growth model in the earliest stages which then gives way to a coherent (constant-length) fault growth model at greater strains.

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