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Abstract

The Rheic Ocean is a persistent feature of Paleozoic palaeogeographies whose closure contributed to the development of the Variscan Orogen and the formation of Pangaea. Geological and geophysical data indicate repeated episodes of Paleozoic rifting and plate convergence around SW England and the adjacent offshore areas. SW England occupied a lower plate position during the Devonian–Carboniferous, on the northern passive margin of the short-lived Rhenohercynian Ocean that had formed near a recently closed segment of the Rheic Ocean. Variscan plate convergence resulted in the development of the composite southwards-dipping Rheic–Rhenohercynian suture zone by the latest Devonian and inversion of the lower plate basins during the Carboniferous. Early Permian NNW–SSE extensional reactivation of this suture zone controlled the development of the Western Approaches basins in its hanging wall and provides an excellent example of Wilson cycle structural inheritance. The onshore expression of this episode includes shear zones and detachment faults consistent with top-to-the-SSE extensional reactivation of Variscan thrust faults. There is a progression to higher-angle brittle extensional faults that cut out earlier structures. Exhumation of the lower plate was accompanied by Early Permian mantle and concomitant crustal partial melting, the construction of the Cornubian Batholith and W–Sn–Cu fracture-hosted mineralization.

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