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Thinning of heterogeneous lithosphere: insights from field observations and numerical modelling

Abstract : The nature and mechanisms of formation of extremely thinned continental crust (< 10 km) and lithosphere during rifting remain debated. Observations from present-day and fossil continental passive margins document the heterogeneous nature of the lithosphere characterized, among others, by lithological variations and structural inheritance. This contribution aims at investigating the mechanisms of extreme lithospheric thinning by exploring in particular the role of initial heterogeneities by coupling field observations from fossil passive margins and numerical models of lithospheric extension. Two field examples from the Alpine Tethys margins outcropping in the Eastern Alps (E Switzerland and N Italy) and in the Southern Alps (N Italy) were selected for their exceptional level of preservation of rift-related structures. This situation enables us to characterize (1) the pre-rift architecture of the continental lithosphere, (2) the localization of rift-related deformation in distinct portion of the lithosphere and (3) the interaction between initial heterogeneities of the lithosphere and rift-related structures. In a second stage, these observations are integrated in high-resolution, two-dimensional thermo-mechanical models taking into account various patterns of initial mechanical heterogeneities. Our results show the importance of initial pre-rift architecture of the continental lithosphere during rifting. Key roles are given to high-angle and low-angle normal faults, anastomosing shear-zones and decoupling horizons. We propose that during the first stages of thinning, deformation is strongly controlled by the complex pre-rift architecture of the lithosphere, localized along major structures responsible for the lateral extrusion of mid to lower crustal levels. This extrusion juxtaposes mechanically stronger levels in the hyper-thinned continental crust, being exhumed by subsequent low-angle normal faults. Altogether, these results highlight the critical role of the extraction of mechanically strong layers of the lithosphere during the extreme thinning of the continental lithosphere and allows to propose a new model for the formation of continental passive margins.
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Contributor : Isabelle Dubigeon <>
Submitted on : Thursday, March 15, 2018 - 9:46:20 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, August 5, 2020 - 10:56:02 AM

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Benoit Petri, Thibault Duretz, Geoffroy Mohn, Stephan Schmalholz. Thinning of heterogeneous lithosphere: insights from field observations and numerical modelling . American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2017, Dec 2017, New Orleans, United States. pp.T51C-0485. ⟨insu-01734799⟩

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