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Salt is mechanically weaker than other sedimentary rocks in rift basins. It commonly acts as a strain localizer, and decouples supra- and sub-salt deformation. In the rift basins discussed in this paper, sub-salt faults commonly form wide and deep ramp synclines controlled by the thickness and strength of the overlying salt section, as well as by the shapes of the extensional faults, and the magnitudes and slip rates along the faults. Upon inversion of these rift basins, the inherited extensional architectures, and particularly the continuity of the salt section, significantly controls the later contractional deformation.

This paper utilizes scaled sandbox models to analyse the interplay between sub-salt structures and supra-salt units during both extension and inversion. Series 1 experiments involved baseline models run using isotropic sand packs for simple and ramp-flat listric faults, as well as for simple planar and kinked planar faults. Series 2 experiments involved the same fault geometries but also included a pre-extension polymer layer to simulate salt in the stratigraphy. In these experiments, the polymer layer decoupled the extensional and contractional strains, and inhibited the upwards propagation of sub-polymer faults. In all Series 2 experiments, the extension produced a synclinal hanging-wall basin above the polymer layer as a result of polymer migration during the deformation. During inversion, the supra-polymer synclinal basin was uplifted, folded and detached above the polymer layer. Changes in thickness of the polymer layer during the inversion produced primary welds and these permitted the sub-polymer deformation to propagate upwards into the supra-salt layers.

The experimental results are compared with examples from the Parentis Basin (Bay of Biscay), the Broad Fourteens Basin (southern North Sea), the Feda Graben (central North Sea) and the Cameros Basin (Iberian Range, Spain).

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