Area balancing as a test of models for the deep structure of mountain belts, with specific reference to the Alps

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Abstract

Basic concepts of structural restoration are applied to crustal cross-sections through mountain belts to explore large-scale tectonic models and deep structure. However, restored sections should account for variations in pre-orogenic crustal thicknesses. Crustal balancing approaches are reviewed and applied to two Alpine sections, coinciding with deep seismic experiments: NRP-20 East (Central Alps) and ECORS-CROP (Western Alps). Existing studies assume large (>300 km) orogenic contraction and only moderately thinned pre-orogenic crust. The resulting restored sections contain more crust than is imaged beneath the present-day Alps, the missing crust generally assumed to be subducted. Two kinematic modifications reduce the requirement for subduction: thinning and buoyancy-driven return flow of ultra-high-pressure metamorphic rocks during orogenesis; and pre-orogenic hyperextension. Using large stretching factors for the pre-orogenic crust negates crustal subduction on both Alpine transects. If the lower crust was approximately rigid, restorations of the Central Alps require strongly depth-heterogeneous stretching of upper and lower crust during Mesozoic rifting. Relaxing this requirement allows uniform lithospheric stretching, a corollary consistent with published subsidence estimates. Restorations make implicit statements on the form of pre-orogenic basins and the structure of continental margins incorporated into mountain belts that can in turn provide tests of tectonic models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-16
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Structural Geology
Volume52
Early online date3 Apr 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013

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crust
mountain
lower crust
subduction
tectonics
crustal thickness
upper crust
orogeny
metamorphic rock
contraction
buoyancy
rifting
thinning
continental margin
subsidence
transect
cross section
kinematics
test
basin

Keywords

  • crustal balancing
  • rifted continental margins
  • continental subduction
  • Western Alps

Cite this

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title = "Area balancing as a test of models for the deep structure of mountain belts, with specific reference to the Alps",
abstract = "Basic concepts of structural restoration are applied to crustal cross-sections through mountain belts to explore large-scale tectonic models and deep structure. However, restored sections should account for variations in pre-orogenic crustal thicknesses. Crustal balancing approaches are reviewed and applied to two Alpine sections, coinciding with deep seismic experiments: NRP-20 East (Central Alps) and ECORS-CROP (Western Alps). Existing studies assume large (>300 km) orogenic contraction and only moderately thinned pre-orogenic crust. The resulting restored sections contain more crust than is imaged beneath the present-day Alps, the missing crust generally assumed to be subducted. Two kinematic modifications reduce the requirement for subduction: thinning and buoyancy-driven return flow of ultra-high-pressure metamorphic rocks during orogenesis; and pre-orogenic hyperextension. Using large stretching factors for the pre-orogenic crust negates crustal subduction on both Alpine transects. If the lower crust was approximately rigid, restorations of the Central Alps require strongly depth-heterogeneous stretching of upper and lower crust during Mesozoic rifting. Relaxing this requirement allows uniform lithospheric stretching, a corollary consistent with published subsidence estimates. Restorations make implicit statements on the form of pre-orogenic basins and the structure of continental margins incorporated into mountain belts that can in turn provide tests of tectonic models.",
keywords = "crustal balancing, rifted continental margins, continental subduction, Western Alps",
author = "Butler, {Robert W.H.}",
note = "Acknowledgements This contribution formed part of a presentation on section-balancing methods by the author at a special session celebrating the Chamberlin centenary (see Journal of Structural Geology v 41) held at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting in Denver in 2010. Thanks go to the convenors Rick Groshong and Alan Gibbs not only for inviting the presentation but also in soliciting this article, referees Groshong and Almendinger, and editor Bill Dunne for his patience!",
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AU - Butler, Robert W.H.

N1 - Acknowledgements This contribution formed part of a presentation on section-balancing methods by the author at a special session celebrating the Chamberlin centenary (see Journal of Structural Geology v 41) held at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting in Denver in 2010. Thanks go to the convenors Rick Groshong and Alan Gibbs not only for inviting the presentation but also in soliciting this article, referees Groshong and Almendinger, and editor Bill Dunne for his patience!

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N2 - Basic concepts of structural restoration are applied to crustal cross-sections through mountain belts to explore large-scale tectonic models and deep structure. However, restored sections should account for variations in pre-orogenic crustal thicknesses. Crustal balancing approaches are reviewed and applied to two Alpine sections, coinciding with deep seismic experiments: NRP-20 East (Central Alps) and ECORS-CROP (Western Alps). Existing studies assume large (>300 km) orogenic contraction and only moderately thinned pre-orogenic crust. The resulting restored sections contain more crust than is imaged beneath the present-day Alps, the missing crust generally assumed to be subducted. Two kinematic modifications reduce the requirement for subduction: thinning and buoyancy-driven return flow of ultra-high-pressure metamorphic rocks during orogenesis; and pre-orogenic hyperextension. Using large stretching factors for the pre-orogenic crust negates crustal subduction on both Alpine transects. If the lower crust was approximately rigid, restorations of the Central Alps require strongly depth-heterogeneous stretching of upper and lower crust during Mesozoic rifting. Relaxing this requirement allows uniform lithospheric stretching, a corollary consistent with published subsidence estimates. Restorations make implicit statements on the form of pre-orogenic basins and the structure of continental margins incorporated into mountain belts that can in turn provide tests of tectonic models.

AB - Basic concepts of structural restoration are applied to crustal cross-sections through mountain belts to explore large-scale tectonic models and deep structure. However, restored sections should account for variations in pre-orogenic crustal thicknesses. Crustal balancing approaches are reviewed and applied to two Alpine sections, coinciding with deep seismic experiments: NRP-20 East (Central Alps) and ECORS-CROP (Western Alps). Existing studies assume large (>300 km) orogenic contraction and only moderately thinned pre-orogenic crust. The resulting restored sections contain more crust than is imaged beneath the present-day Alps, the missing crust generally assumed to be subducted. Two kinematic modifications reduce the requirement for subduction: thinning and buoyancy-driven return flow of ultra-high-pressure metamorphic rocks during orogenesis; and pre-orogenic hyperextension. Using large stretching factors for the pre-orogenic crust negates crustal subduction on both Alpine transects. If the lower crust was approximately rigid, restorations of the Central Alps require strongly depth-heterogeneous stretching of upper and lower crust during Mesozoic rifting. Relaxing this requirement allows uniform lithospheric stretching, a corollary consistent with published subsidence estimates. Restorations make implicit statements on the form of pre-orogenic basins and the structure of continental margins incorporated into mountain belts that can in turn provide tests of tectonic models.

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JO - Journal of Structural Geology

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SN - 0191-8141

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