Geophysical data acquired on the conjugate margins system of the Gulf of Lion and West Sardinia (GLWS) is unique in its ability to address fundamental questions about rifting (i.e. crustal thinning, the nature of the continent-ocean transition zone, the style of rifting and subsequent evolution, and the connection between deep and surface processes).

While the Gulf of Lion (GoL) was the site of several deep seismic experiments, which occurred before the SARDINIA Experiment (ESP and ECORS Experiments in 1981 and 1988 respectively), the crustal structure of the West Sardinia margin remains unknown. This paper describes the first modeling of wide-angle and near-vertical reflection multi-channel seismic (MCS) profiles crossing the West Sardinia margin, in the Mediterranean Sea. The profiles were acquired, together with the exact conjugate of the profiles crossing the GoL, during the SARDINIA experiment in December 2006 with the French R/V L’Atalante.

Forward wide-angle modeling of both data sets (wide-angle and multi-channel seismic) confirms that the margin is characterized by three distinct domains following the onshore unthinned, 26 km-thick continental crust : Domain V, where the crust thins from ~26 to 6 km in a width of about 75 km; Domain IV where the basement is characterized by high velocity gradients and lower crustal seismic velocities from 6.8 to 7.25 km/s, which are atypical for either crustal or upper mantle material, and Domain III composed of “atypical” oceanic crust.

The structure observed on the West Sardinian margin presents a distribution of seismic velocities that is symmetrical with those observed on the Gulf of Lion’s side, except for the dimension of each domain and with respect to the initiation of seafloor spreading. This result does not support the hypothesis of simple shear mechanism operating along a lithospheric detachment during the formation of the Liguro-Provencal basin.

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