Styles of rifting and fault spacing in numerical models of crustal extension

Wendy Katherine Sharples, Louis-Noel Moresi, Margarete Jadamec, Jerico Revote

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Extension of the Earth's crust can result in differing styles of rifting, such as horst-and-graben, half-graben, metamorphic core complexes and areas of distributed crustal thinning. Faulting patterns can range from either being distributed to highly localized. Observations indicate that the factors controlling the extensional deformation, symmetry, and fault spacing include rheological aspects such as the yielding mechanism and strain softening, and physical aspects such as initial heterogeneities and the strength of the lower crust compared to the upper crust. Time-dependent numerical models of extension are presented, which investigate the influence of the yielding mechanism, lower crust strength, strain weakening, and initial heterogeneity in the crust have on (a) the style of rifting, (b) fault spacing, and (c) integrated strength in the upper crust. Models with an anisotropic yielding mechanism result in more realistic lithospheric strength profiles, slip plane angle distributions, and fault interaction than models with an isotropic yielding mechanism. Heterogeneity type and yielding mechanisms have the largest effect on the resulting symmetry of deformation, whereas the amount of strain weakening has the greatest influence on asymmetry. The likelihood of the metamorphic core complex mode occurring is primarily controlled by lower crust strength. Crustal thinning is encouraged by both low amounts of strain weakening and a strong lower crust. Lower crust viscosity exerts the primary control on whether the resulting deformation is distributed or localized. The degree of strain weakening has the largest influence on the average strength of the upper crust and the slope of the strength profile in the upper crust.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4379-4404
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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