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Physical models of rifting and transform faulting, due to ridge push in a wedge-shaped oceanic lithosphere

Abstract : By scaled physical modelling, we have investigated the mechanical response to gravitational forces in an oceanic lithosphere, overlying a less dense asthenosphere. In the models, an upper wedge-shaped layer of sand represented an oceanic lithosphere (0­35 Ma old, with a half-spreading velocity of 3 cm/yr), and a lower layer of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), mixed with dense wolframite powder, represented the asthenosphere. In the models, as in nature, isostatic compensation resulted in uplift of ridges and subsidence on their flanks. The resulting relief was responsible for ridge push. We tested two main configurations: straight ridges and offset ridges. In all the models, ridge push was sufficient to cause plate motion, underlying advection, and symmetrical rifting at the ridge axis. There was no need to impose plate motions through external pistons and motors. In models of straight ridges, the style of normal faults in the axial rift zone depended on the local thickness of the brittle sand layer. For thick layers, normal faults rafted out from the active zone of rifting, creating a fossil topography of tilted blocks, between faults dipping toward the ridge. In a model of an offset ridge, with thin lithosphere at the ridge crest and no embedded weakness, ridge push was responsible for a short transform fault, linking en-échelon rifts. In a similar model, but with thick lithosphere, an oblique rift formed at about 20° to the offset trace. We conclude that ridge push was not adequate to create an ideal transform fault. In a model of an offset ridge, with an embedded thin vertical layer of pure PDMS at 90° to the ridge, transform motion concentrated along this weak layer, and the resulting structural style was very similar to that in nature. On the basis of these results, we infer that, in nature, (1) ridge push can indeed drive plate motion, and (2) ridge push can drive strike-slip motion on transform faults, provided that these are weaker than the adjacent oceanic lithosphere and that they form early in the history of spreading.
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Submitted on : Monday, December 3, 2007 - 3:38:29 PM
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Fernando Marques, P.R. Cobbold, N. Lourenço. Physical models of rifting and transform faulting, due to ridge push in a wedge-shaped oceanic lithosphere. Tectonophysics, Elsevier, 2007, 443 (1-2), pp.37-52. ⟨10.1016/j.tecto.2007.07.002⟩. ⟨insu-00193412⟩



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