Lithosphere continental rifting and necking in 3D analogue experiments: role of plate divergence rate.

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Yago Nestola, Fabrizio Storti and Cristian Cavozzi, University of Parma, Parma, Italy
The evolution of lithosphere necking is a fundamental parameter controlling the structural architecture and thermal state of rifted margins. Despite a large number of analogue and numerical modelling studies on lithosphere extension are available in the literature, a quantitative experimental description of lithosphere necking evolution is still lacking. Extensional strain rate and thermal layering of the lithosphere exert a fundamental control on necking shape and evolution. We focused our experimental work on the former parameter and simulated the progression of lithosphere thinning and necking during asymmetric orthogonal rifting at different plate divergence rates. Our models involve a 4-layer mechanical continental lithosphere, which rests on a glucose syrup asthenosphere. Both the topography and the base of the lithosphere were monitored by time-lapse laser scanning. This technical approach allowed us to quantify the evolution in space and time of the thinning factors for the crust, mantle, and lithosphere as a whole. Laser-scanning monitoring provided also a detailed picture of the evolving neck shape, which shows a strong dependency on the strain-rate. At low strain-rates, necking is “boxed” with steep flanks and a flat-lying roof, and few deep basins develop at surface. At high strain-rates, more distributed thinning occurs and isolates portions of less deformed mantle. More distributed deformation affects the model topography. Despite large differences in shape, the aspect ratio (amplitude/wavelength) of the cross-sectional neck shapes converges towards very similar values at the end of the experiments.

The significant differences and evolutionary pathways produced by the plate divergence rate on the lithosphere necking profile, suggest that this parameter exert a fundamental control on localization vs. distribution of deformation in the crust as in the whole mechanical lithosphere. Furthermore, it can exert a fundamental control on the time and space distribution of heat flow during rifting. Following up on this we can speculate on the location and timing of synrift magmatism, which is expected to be preferentially produced on one shoulder for slow plate divergence rates, and more widely distributed and delayed at fast divergence rates.