The Tertiary opening of the North Atlantic Ocean involved major and long-lived overall dextral transpression between the Svalbard and Greenland plates. On Spitsbergen, this tectonic event is manifest as a 100–200-km-wide contractional fold-thrust belt in the form of an east-pinching prism. This belt can be subdivided into (1) a western, basement-involved hinterland province that reveals more complex deformation, including thrust, transcurrent, and normal faulting, and (2) an eastern thin-skinned fold-thrust belt with structures oriented subparallel (north-northwest–south-southeast) to the transform plate boundary.

The time-space distribution and interaction of different structural styles of Tertiary deformation evident on Spitsbergen support a model with linked, long-term and short-term (episodic) dynamic growth of a composite contractional and transcurrent fold-thrust wedge. The growth of a narrow, high-taper (critical-supercritical) contractional wedge occurred during northward-directed crustal shortening (stage 1) in an oblique, dextral transcurrent setting. Crustal thickening in the form of thrust uplift and basin inversion and strike-slip duplexing during the main contractional event (stages 2 and 3) created an unstable, supercritical wedge of basement and cover rocks in the hinterland. At the same time, a broader and more homogeneous frontal part of the wedge developed eastward by in-sequence imbrication in order to reduce the taper angle. Local erosion and lateral wedge extrusion (stages 3 and 4) modified the oversteepened hinterland wedge to a critical taper angle. Continued tectonic activity in the hinterland caused renewed internal imbrication of the frontal wedge, where deformation was accommodated by tear faulting and out-of-sequence thrusting (stage 4). Adjustment toward a stable taper geometry included local extension (stage 5) and erosion and sedimentation.

In a transpressional fold-thrust belt, as on Spitsbergen, out-of-plane (orogen oblique to parallel) transport in the hinterland may cause local and lateral supercritical and subcritical wedge tapers. Hinterland geometries could trigger adjustments in a frontal thrust wedge in a decoupled situation, and/or orogen oblique or parallel motions in a coupled situation. Changing kinematics may thus be expected along strike in such an orogen.

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