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Ruh, J. (2019), Effects of fault-weakening processes on oblique intracontinental rifting and subsequent tectonic inversion, American Journal of Science, 319,4 (315-338) , doi: 10.2475/04.2019.03


In many mountain belts, deformation concentrates along mechanically weak fault zones inherited from earlier tectonic events. This work investigates the effects of two modes of structural weakening on the orientation of rifting and later tectonic inversion with respect to the imposed divergence/convergence direction in a high-resolution 3D finite difference model with a viscous-frictional rheology. In the first set of experiments, weakening consists in a decrease in frictional strength with increasing shear strain. The generated normal faults strike orthogonal to the imposed divergence direction. These faults are reactivated during tectonic inversion and absorb 50 to 70 percent of accumulated strain. In the second set of experiments, frictional strength is a decreasing function of shear strain rate. The generated faults are oblique to the divergence direction, implying oblique fault slip. Fault reactivation depends on the obliquity of the inverted rift to convergence direction, where larger obliquity leads to more intense fault reactivation. These new numerical results are compared to previous analogue and numerical models on the one hand, and natural examples of intracontinental mountain ranges due to tectonic inversion on the other hand. These comparisons demonstrate that both modes of frictional weakening should be taken into account when seeking to understand large-scale rifting and inversion tectonics.

Reference article

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