Major detachment faults play a key role in the lithospheric extension process in the Basin and Range province and may also be important in other continental extension terranes. Such detachment faulting leads to an inherent asymmetry of extensional structure and of uplift/subsidence patterns. Detachment models developed for the formation of metamorphic core complexes can also be applied to the formation of passive continental margins. We therefore suggest the existence of upper-plate and lower-plate passive margins. These give rise to a complementary asymmetry of opposing margins after continental breakup. Transfer faults offset marginal features and allow margins to switch from upper-plate to lower-plate characteristics along strike.

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