Microcontinents occur outboard of passive margins and stranded in ocean basins. Three-dimensional analogue laboratory experiments of continental rifting demonstrate that microcontinent formation at passive margins requires a combination of preexisting linear weaknesses in the lithosphere and rotational extension. Our results suggest that separation of microcontinents from passive margins occurs during the latest stages of continental breakup, before the onset of seafloor spreading, and that preexisting lithospheric weaknesses are a first-order control on where they form. These findings suggest that microcontinent formation may be restricted to localized regions along passive margins associated with zones of lithospheric weakness, providing a new structural and tectonic framework for the interpretation of microcontinents in the geological record.

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