From continental rifting to conjugate margins: insights from analogue and numerical modelling.

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis – Research and graduation external


The South Atlantic conjugate margins are the product of continental rifting and break-up of Pangea, which was made up of different crustal features prior to rifting. This study investigates continental rift initiation and break-up of alternative lithospheric setups, consisting of large segments with different rheological strength, with the use of analogue and numerical modelling. The analogue models investigate the effect of far-field forces on a system that consist of multiple rheological segments, whereas the numerical models include thermal processes and focus on the impact of initial plume emplacement on such a setup.Lithosphere-scale analogue models consisting of two different rheological compartments have been subjected to extensional forces, to understand effect of far-field forces on large rheological heterogeneities in a system within an extensional tectonic regime. The results show that in such a system, the weaker segment accommodates all the extension. At the contact between the two compartments no rift-initiation is observed. In the presence of a strong sub-Moho mantle, the rift evolution consists of two phases. The first phase is a wide or distributed rift event. Once the strong part of the upper mantle has sufficiently weakened, the rift localizes and a narrow rift continues to accommodate the extension. If extension would continue, break-up would happen at the location of the narrow rift, thereby breaking a rather homogenous part within a laterally heterogeneous system. This would result in asymmetric margins with hyperextended, weak crust on both margins.The numerical results show that, in the case of plume-induced continental break-up, the classical ‘central’ mode of break-up, where the break-up centre develops above the plume-impingement point is not the only form of continental break-up. When the mantle anomaly is located off-set from the contact between rheological segments, a ‘shifted’ mode of break-up may develop. In this case, the mantle plume material rises to the base of the lithosphere and migrates laterally to the contact between two rheological segments where rifting initiates. Mantle material that does not reach the spreading centre and remains at lower crustal depths, resemble high density/high velocity bodies at depth found along the South Atlantic margin and providing geometric asymmetry.Further investigation on the exact influence of the initial plume position with respect to the contact between the rheological compartments shows that there is a critical distance for which the system develops either ‘central’ (or ‘plume-induced’) continental break-up or ‘shifted’ (or ‘structural inherited’) continental break-up. For Moho temperatures of 500 – 600 oC, there is a window of ~50 km where the system creates two break-up branches. These results explain complex rift systems with both vertical penetration of plume material into the overlying lithosphere as well as reactivated inherited structures developing break-up systems both aided by the same mantle plume...
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, UMR 7193, Institut des Sciences de la Terre Paris, 4 Place Jussieu, 75252 Paris, France
Thesis sponsors
Award date18 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2018


  • Rifting
  • continental break-up
  • south atlantic
  • analogue modellijng
  • numerical modelling
  • rheology
  • conjugate margins


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