Modes of continental extension in a lithospheric wedge

Monday, 15 December 2014
Guangliang Wu, University of Texas at Austin, Jackson School of Geosciences, Austin, TX, United States, Luc L Lavier, Jackson School of Geosciences, Austin, TX, United States and Eunseo Choi, University of Memphis, Center for Earthquake Research and Information, Memphis, TN, United States
We studied extension of a lithospheric wedge as an approximation to an orogenic belt or a continental margin. We ran a series of numerical models to quantify the effects of the strength of the lower crust and a mid-crustal shear zone (MCSZ) on the extension processes. When the MCSZ is present, we found that the regional lower crustal flow plays a critical role in controlling the modes of extension. The compensation is long-wavelength when the lower crust flows from the highest to the lowest elevation in order to compensate upper crustal thinning. In response to this motion, the mantle flows towards the highest elevation in order to balance for the lower crust leaving the area under the highest topography. For weak (wet quartz regime with partial melting) or intermediate (wet quartz regime), or strong (dry quartz regime) lower crust, we recognized three predominantly decoupled modes of extension characterized by 1) significant lower crustal exhumation exemplified as a large massif, 2) formation of core complexes and detachment faults, and 3) distributive domino faulting, respectively. Without the MCSZ, however, the lower crustal flow is essentially subdued with predominantly coupled extension. For weak or intermediate, or strong lower crust, we recognized three coupled modes characterized by 1) localized generally symmetric crustal exhumation, 2) distributed grabens and narrow rifts, and 3) wide continental margins, respectively. The MCSZ controls the degree of decoupling of the lower crustal flow such that a frictionally stronger MCSZ does not change the behaviors of the models but results in a more distributed extension. Due to the long-wavelength compensation, subhorizontal Moho is achieved where intensive extension occurred for all the decoupled models with a MCSZ. Natural counterparts for each mode may be easily identified, for instance, in the Basin and Range or the Aegean.