How oblique extension and structural inheritance influence rift segment interaction: Insights from 4D analog models

Zwaan, Frank; Schreurs, Guido (2017). How oblique extension and structural inheritance influence rift segment interaction: Insights from 4D analog models. Interpretation, 5(1), SD119-SD138. SEG Society of Exploration Geophysicists 10.1190/INT-2016-0063.1

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Rifting of the continental lithosphere involves the initial formation of distinct rift segments, often along preexisting crustal heterogeneities resulting from preceding tectonic phases. Progressive extension, either orthogonal or oblique, causes these rift segments to interact and connect, ultimately leading to a full-scale rift system. We study continental rift interaction processes with the use of analog models to test the influence of a range of structural inheritance (seed) geometries and various degrees of oblique extension. The inherited geometry involves main seeds, offset in a right-stepping fashion, along which rift segments form as well as the presence or absence of sec- ondary seeds connecting the main seeds. X-ray computer tomography techniques are used to analyze the 3D models through time, and results are compared with natural examples. Our experiments indicate that the extension direction exerts a key influence on rift segment interaction. Rift segments are more likely to connect through discrete fault structures under dextral oblique extension conditions because they generally propagate toward each other. In contrast, sinistral oblique extension commonly does not result in hard linkage because rift segment tend to grow apart. These findings also hold when the system is mirrored: left-stepping rift segments under sinistral and dextral oblique extension conditions, respectively. However, under specific conditions, when the right-stepping rift seg- ments are laterally far apart, sinistral oblique extension can produce hard linkage in the shape of a strike-slip-domi- nated transfer zone. A secondary structural inheritance between rift segments might influence rift linkage, but only when the extension direction is favorable for activation. Otherwise, propagating rifts will simply align perpendicu- larly to the extension direction. When secondary structural grains do reactivate, the resulting transfer zone and the strike of internal faults follow their general orientation. However, these structures can be slightly oblique due to the influence of the extension direction. Several of the characteristic structures observed in our models are also present in natural rift settings such as the Rhine-Bresse Transfer Zone, the Rio Grande Rift, and the East African Rift System.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Zwaan, Frank and Schreurs, Guido


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




SEG Society of Exploration Geophysicists


[4] Swiss National Science Foundation




Frank Zwaan

Date Deposited:

27 Feb 2017 16:53

Last Modified:

11 May 2022 13:12

Publisher DOI:





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