Lower crustal rheological expression in inverted basins
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Although lithospheric modelling has provided extraordinary insights into the processes that shape the continental crust, considerable uncertainty surrounds the basic rheology that governs behaviour at geological timescales. In part, this is because it has proved difficult to identify the geological observations that might discriminate, or unify, models of lithospheric rheology. In particular, the relative strength of lower crust and upper mantle remains a contentious aspect of continental lithospheric rheology. We show that various models for lower crustal rheology may produce distinct patterns of inversion in extensional sedimentary basins, consistent with some of the observed natural variability of inversion styles. Inversion of basin interiors, as is common in European Mesozoic basins, is favoured by a lithospheric rheology more sensitive to lateral thermal structure than to changes in the depth of the Moho, consistent with there being little strength contrast between the lower crust and upper mantle in these settings. In contrast, inversion of basin margins, particularly involving basinward verging structures, is consistent with a rheological sensitivity to the depth of Moho as would apply for a lower crust much weaker than the upper mantle. We use an example from central Australia to demonstrate this latter response, together with thermochronologic data that suggests that a relatively weak lower crust in this setting may reflect abnormally high geothermal gradients.