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The deformed wedge of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks in the southern Appalachian foreland fold-thrust belt is defined by the configurations of the undeformed basement surface below and the base of the Blue Ridge–Piedmont megathrust sheet above, together with the topographic free surface above the thrust belt. The base of the Blue Ridge–Piedmont sheet and undeformed basement surface have been contoured using industry, academic, and U.S. and state geological survey seismic-reflection and surface geologic data. These data reveal that the basement surface dips gently SE in the Tennessee embayment from Virginia to Georgia, and it contains several previously unrecognized normal faults and an increase in dip on the basement surface, which produces a topographic gradient. The basement surface is broken by many normal faults beneath the exposed southern Appalachian foreland fold-thrust belt in western Georgia and Alabama closer to the margin and beneath the Blue Ridge–Piedmont sheet in Georgia and the Carolinas. Our reconstructions indicate that small-displacement normal faults form beheaded basins over which thrust sheets were not deflected, whereas large-displacement normal faults (e.g., Tusquittee fault) localized regional facies changes in the early Paleozoic section and major Alleghanian (Permian) structures. These basement structures correlate with major changes in southern Appalachian foreland fold-thrust belt structural style from Virginia to Alabama.

Several previously unrecognized structures along the base of the Blue Ridge–Piedmont sheet have been interpreted from our reconstructions. Large frontal duplexes composed of rifted-margin clastic and platform rocks obliquely overridden along the leading edge of the Blue Ridge–Piedmont sheet are traceable for many kilometers beneath the sheet. Several domes within the Blue Ridge–Piedmont sheet also likely formed by footwall duplexing of platform sedimentary rocks beneath, which then arched the overlying thrust sheet. The thickness and westward limit of the Blue Ridge–Piedmont sheet were estimated from the distribution of low-grade foot-wall metamorphic rocks, which were observed in reentrants in Georgia and southwestern Virginia, but are not present in simple windows in Tennessee. These indicate that the original extent of the sheet is near its present-day trace, whereas in Georgia, it may have extended some 30 km farther west.

The southern Appalachian foreland fold-thrust belt consists mostly of a stack of westward-vergent, mostly thin-skinned thrusts that propagated westward into progressively younger units as the Blue Ridge–Piedmont sheet advanced westward as a rigid indenter, while a few in northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia involved basement. Additional boundary conditions include temperatures <300 °C and pressures <300 MPa over most of the belt. The southern Appalachian foreland fold-thrust belt thrusts, including the Blue Ridge–Piedmont megathrust sheet, reach >350 km displacement in Tennessee and decrease both in displacement and numbers to the SW and NE.

Much of the Neoproterozoic to Early Cambrian rifted-margin succession was deformed and metamorphosed during the Taconic orogeny, and it is considered part of the rigid indenter. Only the westernmost rocks of the rifted-margin succession exhibit ideal thin-skinned behavior and thus are part of the southern Appa-lachian foreland fold-thrust belt. Palinspastic reconstructions, unequal thrust displacements, and curved particle trajectories suggest that deformation of the belt did not occur by plane strain in an orogen that curves through a 30° arc from northern Georgia to SW Virginia. Despite the balance of many two-dimensional cross sections, the absence of plane strain diminishes their usefulness in quantifying particle trajectories. Coulomb behavior characterizes most individual faults, but Chapple's perfectly plastic rheology for the entire thrust belt better addresses the particle trajectory problem. Neither, however, addresses problems such as the mechanics of fault localization, out-of-sequence thrusts, duplex formation, three-dimensional transport, and other southern Appalachian foreland fold-thrust belt attributes.

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