Reprocessing and interpretation of commercial and deep seismic reflection data across the East Shetland platform and its North Sea margin provide a new view of crustal subbasement structure beneath a poorly known region of the British Caledonian orogen. The East Shetland platform, east of the Great Glen strike-slip fault system, is one of the few areas of the offshore British Caledonides that remained relatively insulated from the Mesozoic and later rifting that involved much of the area around the British Isles, thus providing an “acoustic window” into the deep structure of the orogen. Interpretation of the reflection data suggests that the crust beneath the platform retains a significant amount of its original Caledonian and older architecture. The upper to middle crust is typically poorly reflective except for individual prominent dipping reflectors with complex orientations that decrease in dip with depth and merge with a lower crustal layer of high reflectivity. The three-dimensional structural orientation of the reflectors beneath the East Shetland platform is at variance with Caledonian reflector trends observed elsewhere in the Caledonian orogen (e.g., north of the Scottish mainland), emphasizing the unique tectonic character of this part of the orogen. Upper to middle crustal reflectors are interpreted as Caledonian or older thrust surfaces that were possibly reactivated by Devonian extension associated with post-Caledonian orogenic collapse.
The appearance of two levels of uneven and diffractive (i.e., corrugated) reflectivity in the lower crust, best developed on east-west–oriented profiles, is characteristic of the East Shetland platform. However, a north-south–oriented profile reveals an interpreted south-vergent folded and imbricated thrust structure in the lower crust that appears to be tied to the two levels of corrugated reflectivity on the east-west profiles. A thrust-belt origin for lower crustal reflectivity would explain its corrugated appearance. Regional seismic velocity models derived from refraction data suggest that this reflectivity correlates with a continuous lower crustal layer that has an intermediate seismic velocity. The lower crustal reflectivity is determined to be older than Mesozoic age by the bending down and truncation of the two reflectivity levels at the western margin of the North Sea Viking graben by a major mantle reflector inferred to be associated with Mesozoic rifting. The results of this study are thus in contrast with orthodox interpretations of the reflective layered lower crust as being caused by mantle-derived igneous intrusion or by deformation fabrics associated with stretching in response to continental rifting.