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Conference Paper

Abrupt plate acceleration through oblique rifting: Geodynamic aspects of Gulf of California evolution


Brune,  Sascha
2.5 Geodynamic Modelling, 2.0 Geophysics, Departments, GFZ Publication Database, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum;

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Brune, S. (2016): Abrupt plate acceleration through oblique rifting: Geodynamic aspects of Gulf of California evolution - Abstracts, AGU Fall Meeting 2016 (San Francisco, USA 2016).

Cite as: https://gfzpublic.gfz-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_2313908
The Gulf of California formed by oblique divergence across the Pacific–North America plate boundary. This presentation combines numerical forward modeling and plate tectonic reconstructions in order to address 2 important aspects of rift dynamics: (1) Plate motions during continental rifting are decisively controlled by the non-linear decay of rift strength. This conclusion is based on a recent plate-kinematic analysis of post-Pangea rift systems (Central Atlantic, South Atlantic, Iberia/Newfoundland, Australia/Antarctica, North Atlantic, South China Sea). In all cases, continental rifting starts with a slow phase followed by an abrupt acceleration within a few My introducing a fast rift phase. Numerical forward modeling with force boundary conditions shows that the two-phase velocity behavior and the rapid speed-up during rifting are intrinsic features of continental rupture that can be robustly inferred for different crust and mantle rheologies. (2) Rift strength depends on the obliquity of the rift system: the force required to maintain a given rift velocity can be computed from simple analytical and more realistic numerical models alike, and both modeling approaches demonstrate that less force is required to perpetuate oblique extension. The reason is that plastic yielding requires a smaller plate boundary force when extension is oblique to the rift trend. Comparing strike slip and pure extension end‐member scenarios, it can be shown that about 50% less force is required to deform the lithosphere under strike‐slip. This result implies that rift systems involving significant obliquity are mechanically preferred. These two aspects shed new light on the underlying geodynamic causes of Gulf of California rift history. Continental extension is thought to have started in Late Eocene/Oligocene times as part of the southern Basin and Range Province and evolved in a protracted history at low extension rate (≤15 mm/yr). However, with a direction change in Baja California microplate motion 13-6 My ago, plate divergence drastically increased its obliquity, which reduced the rifts mechanical resistance to extension. This effective loss of rift strength sparked an acceleration of the Gulf of California rift and ultimately enabled today’s divergence velocities of more than 45 mm/yr.