Strain localization during burial and exhumation of the continental upper crust: A case study from the Northern Sporades (Pelagonian thrust sheet, Greece)

Kristóf Porkoláb*, Ernst Willingshofer, Dimitrios Sokoutis, Jan Wijbrans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Extension is a key process controlling the post-orogenic exhumation of metamorphic rocks in subduction and collision zones. Previous studies have largely focused on the mechanics of localized core-complex style post-orogenic extension and the large-scale effects of various internal (e.g. rheology) and external (e.g. plate motions) parameters on the mode of extension. However, many regions on earth underwent rock exhumation during post-orogenic extension, which is characterized by distributed rather than localized deformation. We explore conditions of distributed deformation as illustrated by the Pelagonian unit in the Aegean subduction system. In particular, we explore the influence of structural inheritance related to the pre-extension shortening and mechanical stratigraphy on the localization of extension on the scale of the upper crust through detailed structural analysis on the islands of Skiathos and Skopelos. Additionally, the time frame of deformation has been established by 40Ar/39Ar dating of key shear zones. Shortening on the islands predominantly took place by ductile top-SW thrusting under low-grade metamorphic conditions, localized in weak calcite marble layers within the Upper Cretaceous and Upper Triassic carbonates at ~55 Ma. We show that the presence of shallow decoupling levels in the upper crust resulted in the formation of thin (several 100 m thick) thrust sheets that are defined for the first time on Skiathos. The Early Paleogene accretion of the Pelagonian upper crust to the upper plate (Eurasia/Rhodopia) was followed by the extensional inversion of the nappe stack. Extension was accommodated by opposite-sense, generally top-NE, ductile to brittle shearing, which localized at inherited heterogeneities such as reverse-sense shear zones and stratigraphic contacts at around 35 Ma, as suggested by our 40Ar/39Ar age spectra. The dense network of such northerly-dipping, inherited weakness zones resulted in a highly distributed pattern of extensional deformation dominated by layer-parallel shearing. We argue that the distribution of crustal heterogeneities substantially influences the style of post-orogenic extension.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103292
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Early online date11 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Distributed deformation
  • Mechanical stratigraphy
  • Northern Sporades
  • Pelagonian
  • Post-orogenic extension
  • Strain localization
  • Structural inheritance


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