We have developed a nonlinear gravity inversion for simultaneously estimating the basement and Moho geometries, as well as the depth of the reference Moho along a profile crossing a passive rifted margin. To obtain stable solutions, we impose smoothness on basement and Moho, force them to be close to previously estimated depths along the profile and also impose local isostatic equilibrium. Different from previous methods, we evaluate the information of local isostatic equilibrium by imposing smoothness on the lithostatic stress exerted at depth. Our method delimits regions that deviate and those that can be considered in local isostatic equilibrium by varying the weight of the isostatic constraint along the profile. It also allows controlling the degree of equilibrium along the profile, so that the interpreter can obtain a set of candidate models that fit the observed data and exhibit different degrees of isostatic equilibrium. Our method also differs from earlier studies because it attempts to use isostasy for exploring (but not necessarily reducing) the inherent ambiguity of gravity methods. Tests with synthetic data illustrate the effect of our isostatic constraint on the estimated basement and Moho reliefs, especially at regions with pronounced crustal thinning, which are typical of passive volcanic margins. Results obtained by inverting satellite data over the Pelotas Basin, a passive volcanic margin in southern Brazil, agree with previous interpretations obtained independently by combining gravity, magnetic, and seismic data available to the petroleum industry. These results indicate that combined with a priori information, simple isostatic assumptions can be very useful for interpreting gravity data on passive rifted margins.

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