Analogue modelling of marginal flexure in Afar, East Africa: Implications for passive margin formation

Zwaan, Frank; Corti, Giacomo; Keir, Derek; Sani, Federico (2020). Analogue modelling of marginal flexure in Afar, East Africa: Implications for passive margin formation (In Press). Tectonophysics Elsevier

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The Afar region in East Africa is a key locality for studying continental break-up. Within Afar, passive margins are developing, of which the Southern Afar Margin (SAM) contains synthetic (basinward) faulting, whereas crustal exure, antithetic faulting and marginal grabens occur along the Western Afar Margin (WAM). Numerous conflicting scenarios for the evolution of the WAM exist. In this analogue modelling study we test various factors that may affect the development of a WAM-style passive margin: brittle crustal thickness, (en echelon) rheological contrasts, sedimentation and oblique extension. Our experimental results illustrate how marginal flexure due to a weak lower crust below Afar can elegantly account for the structural features of the WAM. Brittle crustal thickness controls what structures occur: a thinner brittle crust accommodates flexure internally, whereas increasing brittle thicknesses lead to faulting. Large escarpment faults develop early on, followed by late-stage antithetic faulting and marginal grabens. A thicker brittle crust also causes enhanced subsidence, and increased strength contrasts between lower crustal domains leads to more localized deformation. Basin-wide sedimentation causes enhanced subsidence, as well as longer activity along large synthetic (escarpment) faults. Finally, oblique extension clearly prevents the development of marginal grabens, which only form in near-orthogonal extension. These results support a tectonic scenario involving initial oblique extension due to Arabian plate motion, creating echelon synthetic escarpment faults along the WAM. After the Danakil Block started its independent rotation, near-orthogonal extension conditions were established, allowing (enhanced) marginal exure, antithetic faulting and marginal graben formation along the older en echelon escarpment. Differences in extension obliquity may also explain the differences in structural architectures between the WAM and SAM. The characteristics of the WAM are typical of magma-rich passive margins, and the margin has great potential for studying continental break-up and (magma-rich) passive margin formation.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences > Tectonics

UniBE Contributor:

Zwaan, Frank


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology






[4] Swiss National Science Foundation


[UNSPECIFIED] The breaking up of continents: the Western Afar Margin as a case study




Frank Zwaan

Date Deposited:

11 Sep 2020 15:18

Last Modified:

02 Dec 2020 09:17

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