The crustal structure of the continent-ocean transition zone in the South Atlantic salt basins is poorly understood. Current interpretations place the limits of oceanic crust at the distal salt limits, with sub-salt crust consisting of rifted continental crust and, in some versions, varying amounts of exhumed mantle. Plate reconstructions that map these limits of oceanic crust onto appropriate-age restorations show poor geometric fits, with unexplained gaps and overlaps. One possible reason for the poor fits is that the distal salt limits are not the real limits of oceanic crust. In this paper we investigate this option by mapping rift basins and seaward-dipping reflectors whose seaward edges mark significant structural boundaries as much as 300 km inboard of the distal salt limits. We interpret these boundaries, which match geometrically in a salt-age (Aptian) plate reconstruction, to be the limits of oceanic crust. We suggest that salt was deposited as seafloor spreading commenced and that, as the South Atlantic opened, salt flowed over the ridge axis, sealing off the extrusive component of oceanic crust, resulting in formation of intrusive oceanic crust. Seafloor spreading eventually broke through the thinning salt, forming breakthrough volcanoes preserved today as basement ramps at the distal salt limits. These ramps formed diachronously, so the distal salt limits are not isochrons, explaining the poor fit of these features in plate reconstructions.

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