Comments on the Parameters and Processes that Affect the Preservation Potential and Style of Oblique-Divergent Plate Boundaries

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:00 PM
Paul J Umhoefer, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
Oblique-divergent or transtensional zones present particular challenges in ancient belts because of the poor preservation potential of the thinned continental crust and young oceanic crust. Many oblique belts will preferentially preserve their boundary zones that lie within continents rather than the main plate boundary zone, which will be at a much lower elevation and composed of denser crust. Zones of tectonic escape or strike-slip overprinting of arcs or plateaus deform continental crust and may be better preserved. Here I highlight parameters and processes that have major effects on oblique divergent belts. Strain partitioning is common, but not ubiquitous, along and across oblique boundaries; the causes of partitioning are not always clear and make this especially vexing for work in ancient belts. Partitioning causes complexity in the patterns of structures at all scales. Inherited structures commonly determine the orientation and style of structures along oblique boundaries and can control the pattern of faults across transtensional belts. Regionally, inherited trends of arcs or other 1000-km-scale features can control boundary structures. Experiments and natural examples suggest that oblique boundary zones contain less of a record of strike-slip faulting and more extensional structures. The obliquity of divergence produces predictable families of structures that typify (i) strike-slip dominated zones (obliquity <~20°), (ii) mixed zones (~20° - ~35°), and (iii) extension dominated zones (>~35°). The combination of partitioning and mixed structures in oblique zones means that the boundaries of belts with large-magnitude strike-slip faulting will commonly preserve little of no record of that faulting history. Plate boundaries localize strain onto the main plate boundary structures from the broader plate boundary and therefore the boundary zones commonly preserve the earlier structures more than later structures, a major problem in interpreting ancient belts. Sediment input is critical in some oblique plate boundaries because these belts become more pronounced sediment sinks over time. The evolving topography of oblique boundaries means that they have great variability of sediment flux into differing parts of the system; large rivers enter these belts only in special circumstances.