Analog Modeling of the Interplay between Subduction and Lateral Extrusion in the European Alps

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 9:15 AM
Inge E van Gelder1, Ernst Willingshofer2 and Dimitrios Sokoutis2, (1)Utrecht University, Utrecht, 3584, Netherlands, (2)Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
In the European Alps lateral extrusion is traditionally viewed as a lithospheric scale process that is related to northward indentation of a weak orogenic wedge (the eastern Alps) by a rigid indenter in upper plate position (the Adriatic plate). Critical for the efficiency of the extrusion process is the presence of a ‘free boundary’ at high angle to the indentation direction. The ‘free boundary’ in the eastern Alps is the result of the eastward extending Pannonian realm synchronous to indentation. However, indentation has become debatable as recent high-resolution tomography suggests that the Adriatic mantle lithosphere subducted under the extruding Alps. These findings raise first order questions related to: (a) the partitioning of deformation between lateral extrusion of the upper plate and coeval subduction of Adria, (b) the rheology of the lower and upper plates, and (c) the rheology of the plate contact controlling the amount of extrusion on the upper plate vs. accretion on the lower plate.
In this analog modeling study, we couple for the first time lateral extrusion tectonics to subduction of the lower plate; thus, extrusion taking place in the upper plate. Within the lithospheric scale models, the lithospheres of the two plates are weakly coupled along an inclined boundary and have contrasting mantle lithosphere strength (stronger in the subducting plate). The interplay of extrusion vs subduction is inferred by varying the mechanical boundary conditions, e.g. the degree of resistance at the ‘unconstrained’ margin, the strength contrast between the upper and the lower plates and the width of the indented region.
The experimental results emphasize that extrusion in the eastern Alps is compatible with coeval subduction of the Adriatic plate. The first experimental series suggests that the following mechanical conditions play a key role in the interplay between extrusion and subduction: (a) the extruding plate is weaker than the subducting plate, (b) the plate contact is weak in order to trigger the subduction of the lower plate, and (c) the eastern boundary is weak and thus allows for accommodating the extruding upper plate.