Complex rift patterns, a result of interacting crustal and mantle weaknesses, or multiphase rifting? Insights from analogue models

Zwaan, Frank; Chenin, Pauline; Erratt, Duncan; Manatschal, Gianreto; Schreurs, Guido

During lithospheric extension, localization of deformation often occurs along structural weaknesses inherited from previous tectonic phases. Such weaknesses may occur in both the crust and mantle, but the combined effects of these weaknesses on rift evolution remain poorly understood. Here we present a series of 3D brittle–viscous analogue models to test the interaction between differently oriented weaknesses located in the brittle upper crust and/or upper mantle. We find that crustal weaknesses usually express first at the surface, with the formation of grabens parallel to their orientation; then, structures parallel to the mantle weakness overprint them and often become dominant. Furthermore, the direction of extension exerts minimal control on rift trends when inherited weaknesses are present, which implies that present-day rift orientations are not always indicative of past extension directions. We also suggest that multiphase extension is not required to explain different structural orientations in natural rift systems. The degree of coupling between the mantle and upper crust affects the relative influence of the crustal and mantle weaknesses: low coupling enhances the influence of crustal weaknesses, whereas high coupling enhances the influence of mantle weaknesses. Such coupling may vary over time due to progressive thinning of the lower crustal layer, as well as due to variations in extension velocity. These findings provide a strong incentive to reassess the tectonic history of various natural examples.

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Zwaan, Frank / Chenin, Pauline / Erratt, Duncan / et al: Complex rift patterns, a result of interacting crustal and mantle weaknesses, or multiphase rifting? Insights from analogue models. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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