Abstract

The Early Cretaceous (135–130 Ma) continental rupture of Western Gondwana to form the South American and African plates closely paralleled the elongate trends of Precambrian and Paleozoic orogenic belts. These orogenic belts were produced as a result of the Neoproterozoic convergent and strike-slip assembly of Gondwana that redeformed during later, Paleozoic orogenic events. Continued continental rifting led to the formation of conjugate, South Atlantic volcanic passive margins whose widths vary from 55 to 180 km. Along-strike variations in crustal stretching, as measured from deep-penetration seismic reflection profiles, correlate with parallel and oblique orientations of rifts relative to the trend of the orogenic, basement fabric. Where orogenic fabric trends parallel to the north–south South Atlantic rift direction such as in the Dom Feliciano orogenic belt of Uruguay and Brazil and the Kaoko Uruguay/Brazil and Kaoko orogenic belt of Namibia, we observe narrow (55–90 km) rift zones with modest continental beta factors of 2.5–3.5 because smaller amounts of rifting were needed to stretch the weaker and parallel, orogenic, basement fabric. Where the basement fabric trends near-orthogonally to the north–south South Atlantic rift direction such as in the Salado suture of Southern Uruguay and the Damara Belt of Namibia, we observe wider (185–220 km) rift zones with higher beta factors of 4.3–5 because greater amounts of stretching were needed to rupture the orthogonal, orogenic, basement fabric. The rift-oblique Gariep Belt intersects the South Atlantic continental rupture at an intermediate angle (30°) and exhibits a predicted intermediate beta factor of 4.0. A compilation of published beta factors from 36 other rifted margins worldwide supports the same basement-trend-degree of stretching relationship that we have developed — with rift-parallel margins having lower beta factors in a range of 1.3–3.5 and rift-orthogonal or oblique margins having higher beta factors in a range of 4–8.

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