Continental break-up mechanism; lessons from intermediate- and fast-extension settings
Continental break-up mechanisms vary systematically between slow- and fast-extension systems. Slow-extension break-up has been established from studies of the Central Atlantic, European and Adria margins. This study focuses on the intermediate and fast cases from Gabon and East India, and draws from the interpretation of reflection seismic, gravimetric and magnetic data.
Interpretation indicates continental break-up via continental mantle unroofing in all systems, with modifications produced by magmatism in faster-extension systems. Break-up of the intermediate-extension Gabon system involves partial upper continental crustal decoupling from continental mantle; whereas, in the fast East Coast India system, decoupled and lower-crustal regimes underwent upwarping in ‘soggy’ zones in the footwalls of major normal faults. Usually, upper-crustal break-up is affected by pre-existing anisotropies, which form systems of constraining ‘rails’ for extending continental crust. This modifies the local stress regimes. They regain a regional character as the function of constraining rails vanishes during progressive unroofing of the upper mantle. Different regions attain different amounts of upper-crustal stretching prior to the break-up. The break-up location is then controlled by the upper-crustal energy balance principle of ‘wound linkage’, by which the minimum physical work is performed for linking upper-crustal ‘wounds’, leading to successful upper-crustal break-up.