Dynamics of Mid-Palaeocene North Atlantic rifting linked with European intra-plate deformations.
Journal - Nature (England )
The process of continental break-up provides a large-scale experiment that can be used to test causal relations between plate tectonics and the dynamics of the Earth's deep mantle. Detailed diagnostic information on the timing and dynamics of such events, which are not resolved by plate kinematic reconstructions, can be obtained from the response of the interior of adjacent continental plates to stress changes generated by plate boundary processes. Here we demonstrate a causal relationship between North Atlantic continental rifting at approximately 62 Myr ago and an abrupt change of the intra-plate deformation style in the adjacent European continent. The rifting involved a left-lateral displacement between the North American-Greenland plate and Eurasia, which initiated the observed pause in the relative convergence of Europe and Africa. The associated stress change in the European continent was significant and explains the sudden termination of a approximately 20-Myr-long contractional intra-plate deformation within Europe, during the late Cretaceous period to the earliest Palaeocene epoch, which was replaced by low-amplitude intra-plate stress-relaxation features. The pre-rupture tectonic stress was large enough to have been responsible for precipitating continental break-up, so there is no need to invoke a thermal mantle plume as a driving mechanism. The model explains the simultaneous timing of several diverse geological events, and shows how the intra-continental stratigraphic record can reveal the timing and dynamics of stress changes, which cannot be resolved by reconstructions based only on plate kinematics.
Plate-wide stress relaxation explains European Palaeocene basin inversions.
Journal - Nature (England )
During Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic times, many Palaeozoic and Mesozoic rifts and basin structures in the interior of the European continent underwent several phases of inversion (the process of shortening a previously extensional basin). The main phases occurred during the Late Cretaceous and Middle Palaeocene, and have been previously explained by pulses of compression, mainly from the Alpine orogen. Here we show that the main phases differed both in structural style and cause. The Cretaceous phase was characterized by narrow uplift zones, reverse activation of faults, crustal shortening, and the formation of asymmetric marginal troughs. In contrast, the Middle Palaeocene phase was characterized by dome-like uplift of a wider area with only mild fault movements, and formation of more distal and shallow marginal troughs. A simple flexural model explains how domal, secondary inversion follows inevitably from primary, convergence-related inversion on relaxation of the in-plane tectonic stress. The onset of relaxation inversions was plate-wide and simultaneous, and may have been triggered by stress changes caused by elevation of the North Atlantic lithosphere by the Iceland plume or the drop in the north-south convergence rate between Africa and Europe.