The occurrence of strike-normal extension in mountain belts undergoing active contraction is not predicted by analytical solutions for the mechanics of purely frictional orogens. To test the idea that ductile rocks at depth might allow extensional deformation to occur in otherwise frictional and contractional orogens, we have conducted a series of analog experiments with purely frictional and layered frictional-ductile rheologies. By precisely measuring the horizontal deformation field, we have quantitatively confirmed the qualitative observation that analog frictional wedges do not extend. This is consistent with published numerical models, and is in contrast to purely viscous models that commonly display coeval extension with contraction. Our modeling also demonstrates that layered frictional-ductile models can, during active convergence, result in discrete extensional normal faulting even when only a relatively thin ductile layer is present. The resulting extension, though relatively small in magnitude compared to the active contraction, can greatly modify the final profile of a convergent orogen and can lead to the formation of a broad plateau between the pro-wedge and the retro-wedge.

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