Extensional inheritance and surface processes as controlling factors of mountain belt structure
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Surface processes and inherited structures are widely regarded as factors that strongly influence the evolution of mountain belts. The first-order effects of these parameters have been studied extensively throughout the last decades, but their relative importance remains notoriously difficult to assess and document. We use lithospheric scale plane-strain thermomechanical model experiments to study the effects of surface processes and extensional inheritance on the internal structure of contractional orogens and their foreland basins. Extensional inheritance is modeled explicitly by forward modeling the formation of a rift basin before reversing the velocity boundary conditions to model its inversion. Surface processes are modeled through the combination of a simple sedimentation algorithm, where all negative topography is filled up to a prescribed reference level, and an elevation-dependent erosion model. Our results show that (1) extensional inheritance facilitates the propagation of basement deformation in the retro-wedge and (2) increases the width of the orogen; (3) sedimentation increases the length scale of both thin-skinned and thick-skinned thrust sheets and (4) results in a wider orogen; (5) erosion helps to localize deformation resulting in a narrower orogen and a less well-developed retro-wedge. A comparison of the modeled behaviors to the High Atlas, the Pyrenees, and the Central Alps, three extensively studied natural examples characterized by different degrees of inversion, is presented and confirms the predicted controls of surface processes and extensional inheritance on orogenic structure.
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CitationJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
American Geophysical Union