Simultaneous breakthroughs in our understanding of plate-tectonic processes, depositional systems, subsidence mechanisms, chronostratigraphy, and basin-exploration methods have resulted in rapidly improving actualistic models for sedimentary basins. Basin analysis has become a true science with the development of quantitatively testable models based on modern basins of known plate-tectonic setting. Major subdivisions of basin settings include divergent, convergent, transform, and hybrid; 23 basin categories occur within these settings. Basins are classified according to primary plate-tectonic controls on basin evolution: (1) type of sub-stratum, (2) proximity to plate boundary, and (3) type of nearest plate boundary(s). Sedimentary basins subside primarily owing to (1) attenuation of crust as a result of stretching and erosion, (2) contraction of lithosphere during cooling, and (3) depression of lithosphere by sedimentary and tectonic loads. The first two processes dominate in most divergent settings, whereas the third process dominates in most convergent settings. Intraplate, transform, and hybrid settings experience complex combinations of processes. Several basin types have low preservation potential, as predicted by their susceptibilities to erosion and uplift during orogeny and as confirmed by their scarcity in the very ancient record.
Key references concerning actualistic plate-tectonic models for each type of basin form the basis for reviewing the present state of the science. The key references come from many sources, with diverse authorship, including several publications of the Geological Society of America. The further development and refinement of actualistic basin models will lead to improved testable paleotectonic reconstructions.