Recently, there has been considerable debate as to whether the continental lithosphere extends by stretching (pure shear) or by lithospheric simple shear. Unfortunately, much of the observational data can be used to support either model. I argue here that for extensional sedimentary basins, the geometry of the postrift thermal subsidence is generally the best constrained observation that can discriminate between the two models. I use the geometry of subsidence in the northern North Sea to show that the lithospheric simple shear model is implausible and that the evolution of the basin is adequately explained by stretching models.

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