Tectonic setting exerts first-order control on basin formation as reflected in basin subsidence history. While our approach ignores the effects of flexural loading and eustatic sea-level change, consistency of backstripped subsidence histories (i.e., with local loading effects of sediment removed) suggests consistent tectonic driving mechanisms in each tectonic setting, with the possible exception of forearc basins.

Based on published subsidence curves and open-file stratigraphic data, we show the subsidence characteristics of passive margins, strike-slip basins, intracontinental basins, foreland basins, and forearc basins. Passive margin subsidence is characterized by two stages, rapid initial, synrift subsidence and slow post-rift thermal subsidence, with increasing subsidence rates toward the adjacent ocean basin. Subsidence of intracontinental basins is similar in magnitude to that seen in passive margin settings, but the former is generally slower, longer lived, and lacks initial subsidence. Long-lived subsidence for many intracontinental basins is consistent with cooling following thermal perturbation of thick lithosphere found beneath old parts of continents. Basins associated with strike-slip faults are usually short lived with very rapid subsidence. Changes in local stress regimes as strike-slip faults evolve, and migrate over time, coupled with three-dimensional heat loss in these small basins likely explain this subsidence pattern. Foreland basin subsidence rates reflect the flexural response to episodic thrust loading. Resultant subsidence curves are punctuated by convex-up (accelerating) segments. Forearc basins have the least consistent subsidence patterns. Subsidence histories of these basins are complex and may reflect multiple driving mechanisms of subsidence in forearc settings.

Second-order deviations in subsidence suggest reactivation or superimposed tectonic events in many basin settings. The effects of eustatic sea-level change may also explain some deviations in curves. For many of these settings, subsidence histories are sufficiently distinctive to be used to help determine tectonic setting of ancient basin deposits.

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