Rifts III – Catching the wave!

Together with colleagues from industry and academia, I am convening the “Rifts III” conference at the Geological Society of London on 22 – 24 March 2016. It is the third incarnation of the “Rifts” conference series which started in 2004, and offers a unique platform to connect academic and industry researchers and explorationists to exchange views and provide updates on the newest developments of rift and passive margin research. We’re in the process of lining up an impressive array of speakers who are at the forefront of the science and exploration of rifted basins and passive margins.

Registration will open soon while the program is currently being worked on. Here’s the link to the conference on the Geol Soc website and the Flyer – a quote from the Geol Soc website on the conference format:

The objectives of the conference are to challenge paradigms and consider the applicability of new ideas to the latest sub-surface datasets. The technical program will be designed to address many of the critical parameters raised in these areas e.g. rift architectures, break-up models, continent-ocean boundaries, subsidence patterns, facies distribution and heat flow.

The three-day conference will be constructed around six half-day sessions and four broad themes of oral presentation that will polarize the scales of investigation and reveal the direct applicability of the emerging theorems. Many rift model paradigms underpin our understanding and exploration of rifted continental margins and new exploration concepts need to be consistently applied. However, numerous aspects of crustal evolution and lithospheric extension remain contentious, and new sub-surface datasets have highlighted important apparent conjugate paradoxes. Heat flow, subsidence and passive margin formation appear to be subject to both temporal and spatial anomalies related to rift processes.

More news to follow soon.

Heavy metal

As geoscientist working for industry one comes across some rare chances to have a look at quite impressive pieces of heavy metal. I’ve recently had the chance to visit Allseas’ Pioneering Spirit, a pipe-laying and platform decommissioning vessel which is currently being prepped in the port of Rotterdam for the first project in 2016. The vessel is the largest ship in the world, going by deck size, dwarfing many of the publicly well known large ships like aircraft carriers, supertankers and cargo vessels. Here are a few impressions of that mighty piece of metal and engineering. There’s also some video footage of the vessel which can be found on YouTube – and the mighty lady even has her own Twitter feed (with more videos and pictures there).

Global Paleoshoreline data

Together with former Ph.D. student Logan Yeo, we’ve reverse-engineered a set of global paleoshoreline compilations by Golonka et al. (2006) [1] and Smith et al. (1994) [2] and taken them back from the age of “dark data” being only published in analogue form, to fully digital versions. The paleoshoreline models are made available publicly in different formats, ready to be reconstructed with GPlates using different plate models. The data is published on the web alongside the paper (in press) in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences (Heine, Yeo & Muller: Evaluating global paleoshoreline models for the Cretaceous and Cenozoic, Aust. J. Earth Sciences, in press) and they show the evolution of land area over time from ~150 Ma to the present according to the two different paleoshoreline estimates.

The files are available on my GitHub page here in *.gpml, *.geojson and *.shp format and can be viewed online. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be possible to embed the map on wordpress.com – I originally envisaged some funky webX.X embedded mapping here, but no. Instead web1.0 style links to follow for a sneak peek and some screenshots below:

  1. Golonka et al. (2006) models (examples):
  2. Smith et al. (1994) models:

The rendering through GitHub is fast and allows a quick overview about the global and regional paleoshoreline locations, allowing zooming in and panning.

Paleoshorelines in the Golonka model for the 139-123 Ma time slice rendered from a geojson file live on GitHub.

Paleoshorelines in the Golonka model for the 139-123 Ma time slice rendered from a geojson file live on GitHub. The colored area inside the polygon is equivalent to interpreted land (above sealevel) in the given time interval.

Another option to access the data is to use the version on CartoDB and interactively query and alter the data.


[1] GOLONKA J., KROBICKI M., PAJAK J., VAN GIANG N. & ZUCHIEWICZ W. 2006. Global Plate Tectonics and Paleogeography of Southeast Asia. Faculty of Geology, Geophysics and Environmental Protection, AGH University of Science and Technology, Arkadia, Krakow, Poland.

[2] SMITH A., SMITH D. G. & FURNELL B. M.1994. Atlas of Mesozoic and Cenozoic coastlines. Cambridge University Press, 112 p. Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Updated geological time scale color palettes

While it has been a little break over the summer on this blog, I have nevertheless been able to make a few updates related to the geological time color palettes (see this link for the original post). I have added the GTS2004 palettes (epochs and ages) and also the SEPM95 timescale. The color palettes (or *.cpt files) are designed for use with the Generic Mapping Tools (GMT) but can also be loaded in GPlates. On cpt-city, other formats are also available:

The gradients on cpt-city are usually available in each of the following file formats:

  • Generic Mapping Tools, GMT (cpt)
  • CSS3 gradients (c3g)
  • GIMP (ggr)
  • Gnuplot palette files (gpf)
  • POV-Ray colour map headers (inc)
  • PaintShop Pro’s native format (having the extension PspGradient), which can also be read by Photoshop (psp)
  • The SAO format DS9 (sao)
  • Scalar vector graphics gradients (svg)

Both palettes are still incomplete and require the extension back in geological time or adding eons or epochs. You can find the files on my BitBucket repository (https://bitbucket.org/chhei/gmt-cpts/). Any contribution to extend the individual files or add new timescales (or formats such as for QGIS) will be greatly appreciated!

Rift migration and asymmetric continental margins

Yesterday, our paper on rift migration and formation of asymmetric continental margins was published in Nature Communications. Using high resolution forward numerical models we investigate the influence of extension velocities on the evolution of continental rifts to passive margins. We find a strong correlation between margin width, asymmetry and extension velocity, illustrated by the conjugate South Atlantic passive margins. Our models can explain the highly asymmetric and hyperextended passive continental margins, further, we propose that large amounts of crustal material during the rift migration phase are transferred from one side of the rift to the other, challenging conventional ideas about passive margin formation. This means that large parts of the outer margins off West Africa could actually be composed of crustal material originating from the conjugate Brazilian margin.

(a–e) Fault kinematics of the model. Active faults are shown in red and inactive faults in black. Brittle faults are indicated with solid lines, ductile shear zones with dashed lines. The wide margin is formed through rift migration and sequentially active faulting towards the future ocean. Hence, thick undisturbed pre-salt sediments pre-dating break-up are predicted by our model to be deposited in the landward part of the margin (d,e). The final crustal structure of the model reproduces the strong asymmetry (f) of the conjugate Campos Basin–Angola margins (modified after ref. 5). Note that the geosection is drawn without vertical exaggeration at the same scale as the model (scale bar in the lower right corner is 50 km long). Vertical scale is in seconds two-way travel time (TWT). Source: Brune, Heine, Perez-Gussinye & Sobolev, Nature Communications (http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140606/ncomms5014/full/ncomms5014.html), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

The GFZ Potsdam has also issued a press release related to this [in German].

Citation: Sascha Brune, Christian Heine, Marta Pérez-Gussinyé & Stephan V. Sobolev, 2014, “Rift migration explains continental margin asymmetry and crustal hyper-extension”, Nature Communications, 5, doi: 10.1038/ncomms5014. The paper is openly accessible, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Update 1 (2014-06-11):

Nature Comms’ Article metrics are a pretty cool indicator for immediate online impact (and I believe future citations). By now a few of the standard science news outlets have picked up the press releases (changing by the minute. Here’s a static (and human) collection of the news around the article (including some of the Altmetric links):

Continents breaking apart

Watch this space for a new paper on the formation of hyperextended margins which should be out in the next week or two. Below a photo from the Gulf of Suez (Hamman Faraun fault block north of Abu Zenima) taken during a field trip a few years back, which illustrates how a continental rift looks like just before continents break apart.

Overview map of the Gulf of Suez (GeoMapApp) with location (red circle) and view direction (red arrow) of the photo below.

Overview map with hillshade relief of the Gulf of Suez region (GeoMapApp) with location (red circle) and view direction (red arrow) of the photo below.


A view of the northern Gulf of Suez looking northwest from the Sinai margin towards the African margin. Picture licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

A view of the northern Gulf of Suez looking northwest from the Sinai  towards the African margin. This is how the very young South Atlantic could have looked like in the Cretaceous. The photo is taken from the Hamman Faraun fault block north of Abu Zenima (Openstreetmap link) . Picture licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.