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Rifted continental margins of North America

Dale S. Sawyer
Dale S. Sawyer
Department of Geology and Geophysics, Rice University, P.O. Box 1892, Houston, Texas 77251
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January 01, 1994


During the late 1970s, the study of rifted margins was changed fundamentally by the recognition that simple models of thinning of continental lithosphere could account for many features of the subsidence observed on rifted or passive continental margins (McKenzie, 1978). The 1980s have produced at least three major new foci of research in the study of such margins and continental rifting in general. These new directions have emerged partly as a result of new data acquisition, primarily deep penetration seismic reflection profiling and complementary long offset seismic reflection-refraction experiments on rifted margins worldwide, and partly as a result of the application of land geologic observations of continental rifts to the study of margins.

The first of these new directions was the recognition of the importance of low-angle normal faulting in continental rifting. This avenue of research has changed our expectations of the large-scale patterns of rifting and rifted margin formation. We had come to expect that most rifts should be symmetric and that, upon plate reconstruction, conjugate rifted margins would also show symmetry at the time of initiation of sea-floor spreading. A number of investigators (Wernicke, 1981Wernicke, 1985; Lister and others, 1986) observed asymmetry in the shallow structures in continental rifts, and extended this idea to the whole lithosphere scale. The new model, usually referred to as the simple shear or delamination model, concentrates shearing along narrow zones at low angle to the surface and through the continental lithosphere. Most of the strain during continental extension takes place within this

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Figures & Tables


DNAG, Continent-Ocean Transect Series

Phanerozoic Evolution of North American Continent-Ocean Transitions

Robert C. Speed
Robert C. Speed
Department of Geological Sciences Northwestern University Evanston, Illinois 60208
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Geological Society of America
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January 01, 1994




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