Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:15 PM
FACTORS CONTROLLING THE DEPTH OF CONTINENTAL RIFT ZONES
Rift zones are elongated, narrow tectonic depressions in the Earth’s surface which with time become filled with sediments and volcanics. Rifting processes may lead to break-up of continental plates to form new oceanic lithosphere. Subsidence of rift basins is caused by thinning of the crust and lithospheric mantle, together with thermal relaxation and isostatic compensation for the extra load of sediments. It is generally believed that the final depth of rift basins is primarily controlled by the amount of stretching. However, we show that the relative rheological strength of faults inside and outside rift zones exerts substantial control on the volume of the final rift basin (by more than a factor of 3) even for the same amount of extension (total or inside the rift zone). This surprising result is mainly caused by irreversible deepening of the rift graben during stretching due to lower crustal flow when the faults in the rift zone are weak, whereas the effect is negligible for strong faults. Relatively strong faults inside the rift zone lead to substantial stretching of adjacent crust, and we find that long term stretching outside the main rift zone may explain the formation of wide continental margins, which are now below sea level. We also demonstrate that fast syn-rift erosion/sedimentation rates can increase the final volume of rift basins by up to a factor of 1.7 for weak crustal faults, whereas this effect is insignificant for strong faults inside the rift zone. These findings have significant implications for estimation of stretching factors, tectonic forces, and geodynamic evolution of sedimentary basins around failed rift zones.