Tag Archives: Plate tectonics

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):


Shapefile of reconstructable graticule lines for GPlates

5-Degree spaced graticule lines using the Seton et al plate polygons, reconstructed to 100 Ma.

I have generated a shapefile with reconstructable, global graticule lines (5 degree spacing) for the Seton et al. plate model continental polygons. Download the file here. This file is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 license and was created with CreateGraticuleLines.py (Link to BitBucket site).

Graticules for plate tectonic reconstructions

Plate tectonic reconstructions require to have some present-day markers so that any person reading or looking at the results can correlate the paleo plate positions and continents with present day. Things did indeed look quite a bit different back then… Usually the present-day coastlines are used a such a marker, but as sealevel has varied extensively over the geological history, displaying an Early Cretaceous reconstruction at, say 110 Million years, with present-day shorelines might be a bit misleading. In fact one could probably say that it is plainly wrong.

So what’s the big deal about this you might ask. One key aspect of graticules is usually that they are not “features” in the sense of tangible geospatial data, but rather a “decorative” overlay. GPlates also displays a fixed graticule (the thin gray lines spaced at 30 degrees) on the globe. However, in plate tectonics, if we go back in time, we require that such lines and decorations become ‘reconstructable’ back through geological history. So we need data, not decorations. During the 1980’s in the famous PLATES project at UTIG, a special data type called ‘Gridmarks’ was invented which was pretty much a set of crosshairs, centered at equally spaced increments, mimicking a graticule which could be reconstructed. Take these individual crosshairs, assign them a lifespan and a PlateID and one could simply reconstruct them as continental outlines and other geospatial features were. All worked quite happily with this concept and this old file.

When I started to work on South Atlantic plate kinematics, I realised that, albeit being quite useful, some smaller plates would simply be missed by the grid marks. Also, one would also have to reassign plate ids for any new set of polygons one is working with and sometimes a bit of an update to the way things are being done is also refreshing. The routines which were used to generate these gridmark files (in the old PLATES *.dat format) were written in Fortran and I don’t have a compiled version for my OS at hand and knowing the pain associated with this exercise I opted for a writing a new routine from scratch in Python tailored for use with GPlates.

The result of this is  a short script called “CreateGraticuleLines.py” in my gptools repository on Atlassian’s BitBucket which borrows command line options from GMT. I’ll give a brief overview about the usage. First,  either clone the toolbox using

git clone https://bitbucket.org/chhei/gptools.git

or simply download a zipped archive (either from the overview or from the Downloads page under ‘branches’). Open the terminal, cd to the place where you have downloaded the archive, unzip and type:

cd gptools
chmod u+x CreateGraticuleLines.py
./CreateGraticuleLines.py --help

So now you can create regular spaced graticule lines either for a global coverage at 5 degree line spacing (the default settings, equivalent to -Rd -I5) or for any other bounding box and line increment you require. For example

./CreateGraticuleLine.py -R-10/40/40/70 -I1

will create the following file for GPlates (by default the output name for the file is “Graticule.gpml”):

Graticule lines feature collection showing a 1-degree graticule covering most of Europe. Note that all lines are individual features.

Graticule lines feature collection showing a 1-degree graticule covering most of Europe. Note that all lines are individual features.

Once you load plate polygons into GPlates along with the graticule lines, you can use the cookie-cutting functionality in GPlates to cut the lines and assign individual plate IDs along with an “age of appearance” (set to 0 Ma by the script). It should then somehow look like this:

A global graticule (using the default settings) cookie-cut and age-assigned along with plate polygons.

A global graticule (using the default settings) cookie-cut and age-assigned along with plate polygons.

Once you have cookie-cut and age-assigned the graticule lines, you can reconstruct them like any other feature in GPlates. Note that areas without plate ID and changed ages of appearance will not display once you step back beyond 0 Ma (present day). Here’s another screenshot:

Graticule lines as reconstructable features - cookie cut to plate polygons and rotated back to 100 Ma.

Graticule lines as reconstructable features – cookie cut to plate polygons and rotated back to 100 Ma.

If you now export your reconstruction as set of GMT files, you can now use GMT’s psxy to plot a graticule mesh on top of your reconstruction maps using various line styles. A last example from my South Atlantic maps:

An example of the application of the reconstructed graticules here as thin gray dashed lines (Heine et al., 2013)

An example of the application of the reconstructed graticules here as thin gray dashed lines (Heine et al., 2013)

Similarly, this will also work when using GPlates’ SVG export. You can of course also export your graticule file in GPlates to different formats – such as ESRI Shapefile or OGR GMT plain text format (“Save as” functionality in GPlates’ feature manager).

Happy map making. For bug reports and improvement suggestions please use the BitBucket issue tracker or the commenting functionality here.

Experiences with the EGU open access publication Solid Earth

My paper on the evolution of the South Atlantic rift is now online in the open discussion of the new open-access journal of the EGU “Solid Earth“.  From submission (05. Jan 2013) to the manuscript being online for the discussion and sent out for  review, it took 11 days (the paper appeared online 16. Jan). We had similar experiences with a paper on the GPlates Information Model and Markup language in  Geoscientific Instrumentation, Methods and Data Systems (GI), another open-access journal of the EGU.

The format of the publication still somehow feels a bit awkward as all documents are only available as PDFs, meaning that one has to download the files instead of being able to take a first instant glance at the paper and figures on a simple webpage in HTML. Downloading such a PDF article and supplements has so far been not too fast altough the journal homepage FAQ say:

To ensure continuous online accessibility of SE and SED, the website contents are updated daily on several independent internet servers at different locations throughout the world (mirror sites).

I think  it would also be of benefit to be able to browse through the reviews and comments of papers without the necessity of downloading PDFs, similar to discussions and comments on major news websites. I guess this is done for the reason of archival but I couldn’t find any clear statement on the EGU or journal website on why this particular form of PDF and only HTML abstract has been chosen. The speed of publication, the arXiv-Style pre-publication (ie Discussion) availability of the research, favorable author rights, and making the reviews available online certainly is very promising step forward for peer-reviewed geoscience.

Here’s the abstract of the South Atlantic paper:

The South Atlantic rift basin evolved as branch of a large Jurassic-Cretaceous intraplate rift zone between the African and South American plates during the final breakup of western Gondwana. While the relative motions between South America and Africa for post-breakup times are well resolved, many issues pertaining to the fit reconstruction and particular the relation between kinematics and lithosphere dynamics during pre-breakup remain unclear in currently published plate models. We have compiled and assimilated data from these intraplated rifts and constructed a revised plate kinematic model for the pre-breakup evolution of the South Atlantic. Based on structural restoration of the conjugate South Atlantic margins and intracontinental rift basins in Africa and South America, we achieve a tight fit reconstruction which eliminates the need for previously inferred large intracontinental shear zones, in particular in Patagonian South America. By quantitatively accounting for crustal deformation in the Central and West African rift zone, we have been able to indirectly construct the kinematic history of the pre-breakup evolution of the conjugate West African-Brazilian margins. Our model suggests a causal link between changes in extension direction and velocity during continental extension and the generation of marginal structures such as the enigmatic Pre-salt sag basin and the São Paulo High. We model an initial E–W directed extension between South America and Africa (fixed in present-day position) at very low extensional velocities until Upper Hauterivian times (≈126 Ma) when rift activity along in the equatorial Atlantic domain started to increase significantly. During this initial ≈17 Myr-long stretching episode the Pre-salt basin width on the conjugate Brazilian and West African margins is generated. An intermediate stage between 126.57 Ma and Base Aptian is characterised by strain localisation, rapid lithospheric weakening in the equatorial Atlantic domain, resulting in both progressively increasing extensional velocities as well as a significant rotation of the extension direction to NE–SW. From Base Aptian onwards diachronous lithospheric breakup occurred along the central South Atlantic rift, first in the Sergipe-Alagoas/Rio Muni margin segment in the northernmost South Atlantic. Final breakup between South America and Africa occurred in the conjugate Santos–Benguela margin segment at around 113 Ma and in the Equatorial Atlantic domain between the Ghanaian Ridge and the Piauí-Ceará margin at 103 Ma. We conclude that such a multi-velocity, multi-directional rift history exerts primary control on the evolution of this conjugate passive margins systems and can explain the first order tectonic structures along the South Atlantic and possibly other passive margins.