Structural expression of a fading rift front: a case study from the Oligo-Miocene Irbid rift of northwest Arabia
Not all continental rifts mature to form a young ocean. The mechanism and duration of their cessation depend on the crustal structure, modifications in plate kinematics, lithospheric thermal response, or the intensity of subcrustal flow (e.g., plume activity). The cessation is recorded in the structure and stratigraphy of the basins that develop during the rifting process. This architecture is lost due to younger tectonic inversion, severe erosion, or even burial into greater depths that forces their detection by low-resolution geophysical imaging. The current study focuses on a uniquely preserved Oligo-Miocene rift that was subsequently taken over by a crossing transform fault system and, mostly due to that, died out. We integrate all geological, geophysical, and previous study results from across the southern Galilee to unravel the structural development of the Irbid failing rift in northwest Arabia. Despite tectonic, magmatic, and geomorphologic activity postdating the rifting, its subsurface structure northwest of the Dead Sea fault is preserved at depths of up to 1 km. Our results show that a series of basins subsided at the rift front, i.e., rift termination, across the southern Galilee. We constrain the timing and extent of their subsidence into two main stages based on facies analysis and chronology of magmatism. Between 20 and 9 Ma grabens and half-grabens subsided within a larger releasing jog, following a NW direction of a deeper presumed principal displacement zone. The basins continued to subside until a transition from the transtensional Red Sea to the transpressional Dead Sea stress regime occurred. With the transition, the basins ceased to subside as a rift, while the Dead Sea fault split the jog structure. Between 9 and 5 Ma basin subsidence accentuated and an uplift of their margins accompanied their overall elongation to the NNE. Our study provides for the first time a structural as well as tectonic context for the southern Galilee basins. Based on this case study we suggest that the rift did not fail but rather faded and was taken over by a more dominant stress regime. Otherwise, these basins of a failing rift could have simply died out peacefully.