Abstract

Observations from a number of rifted margins (e.g., South Atlantic salt basin, mid-Norwegian margin, Exmouth Plateau) reveal wide regions of extremely attenuated crust and depositional environments that indicate depth-dependent lithospheric extension. Although the one-dimensional thermal-kinematic consequences of depth-dependent extension are understood, no comprehensive process-based explanation for the complex style of these margins exists. Here, we present self-consistent numerical models of passive-margin formation that explain the depth-dependent extension, the width of the margin, its characteristic tripartite nature, and why such margins are prone to deposition of evaporites under appropriate climatic conditions. Some features that are important to reproducing the observed characteristics include decoupling between upper and lower parts of the lithosphere during stretching, contrasting wide and narrow extensional styles above and below the decoupling level, and progressive focusing of crustal extension toward the rift axis.

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