A characteristic of rifted margins is the extension discrepancy: i.e., the amount of extension estimated from fault geometries on seismic images is far too little to explain the observed crustal thinning and subsidence. Either the crust has been thinned in some other way or the amount of extension has been severely underestimated. To investigate the latter, we create a model structural section across a rifted margin by focusing extension in the center of a rift, producing successive phases of crosscutting faults. From one side of this section, a synthetic seismic image is generated and interpreted as if it were a real profile. Just as for real margins, apparent listric faults and eroded fault block crests are seen, but these are not present in the model and instead represent intersecting fault surfaces, and are thus diagnostic of polyphase faulting. Just as for real margins, the amount of extension measured from the seismic is only a fraction of the true extension. Just as for real margins, this extension discrepancy increases markedly oceanward. Demonstrably for the synthetic margin, and by implication for real margins, the extension discrepancy is the failure of the seismic method to image unambiguously the polyphase faulting required to accommodate increasing extension, combined with a general lack of awareness of the features, outlined here, diagnostic of such faulting.

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