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Integrating structural and sedimentological observations with numerical lithospheric models to assess the 3D evolution of the South African continental passive margin


Hirsch,  Katja K.
Scientific Technical Report STR, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum;
4.4 Basin Analysis, 4.0 Chemistry and Material Cycles, Departments, GFZ Publication Database, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum;

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Hirsch, K. K. (2008): Integrating structural and sedimentological observations with numerical lithospheric models to assess the 3D evolution of the South African continental passive margin, PhD Thesis, (Scientific Technical Report STR ; 08/13), Potsdam : Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ, 99 p.

Cite as: https://gfzpublic.gfz-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_8778
Although the development of passive margins has been extensively studied over a number of decades, significant questions remain on how mantle and crustal dynamics interact to generate the observed margin geometries. Here, the Orange Basin, located on the south-west African continental margin is investigated. The basin fill is considered to comprise a classic rift-drift passive margin sequence recording the break-up of Gondwana and subsequent opening of the South Atlantic Ocean. Based on interpreted seismic reflection data, a 3D geological model was first constructed. Subsequently, an isostatic calculation (Airy´s model) using a homogeneous middle and lower crust was applied to this geological model to determine the position of the Moho for an isostatically balanced system. Isostatic sensitivity tests were applied to the model, and their gravity response was validated against different crustal structures for the basin. The best-fit model requires dense, presumably mafic material in the middle and lower crust beneath the basin and an abrupt change to less dense material near the coast to reproduce the observed gravity field. The passive margin of the South Atlantic shows typical features of a rifted volcanic continental margin, encompassing seaward dipping reflectors, continental flood basalts and high-velocity/density lower crust at the continent-ocean transition, probably emplaced during initial seafloor spreading in the Early Cretaceous. The Springbok profile offshore western South Africa is a combined transect of reflection and refraction seismic data. This thesis addresses the analysis of the seismic velocity structure in combination with gravity modelling and isostatic modelling to unravel the crustal structure of the passive continental margin from different perspectives. The velocity modelling revealed a segmentation of the margin into three distinct parts of continental, transitional and oceanic crust. As observed at many volcanic margins, the lower crust is characterised by a zone of high velocities with up to 7.4 km/s. The conjunction with gravity modelling affirms the existence of this body and at the same time substantiated its high densities, found to be 3100 kg/m³. Both approaches identified the body to have a thickness of about 10 km. Yet, the gravity modelling predicted the transition between the high-density body towards less dense material farther west than initially anticipated from velocity modelling and confirmed this density gradient to be a prerequisite to reproduce the observed gravity signal. Finally, isostatic modelling was applied to predict average crustal densities if the margin was isostatically balanced. The results imply isostatic equilibrium over large parts of the profile; smaller deviations are supposed to be compensated regionally. The calculated load distribution along the profile implies that all pressures are hydrostatic beneath a depth of 45 km. The presence of lower crustal bodies of high seismic velocities indicates that large volumes of igneous crust formed as a consequence of lithospheric extension. Furthermore, results of a combined approach using subsidence analysis and basin history inversion models are presented. The outcome shows that a classical uniform stretching model does not account for the observed tectonic subsidence. Moreover, it is found that that the thermal and subsidence implications of underplating need to be considered. Another departure from the uniform stretching model is renewed sub-crustal stretching and linked to that uplift in the Cenozoic which is necessary to reproduce the observed phases of erosion and the present-day depth of the basin. The dimension of these events has been examined and quantified in terms of tectonic uplift and sub-crustal stretching. Based on these forward models the heat flow evolution is predicted not only for the available real wells but also for virtual wells over the entire study area. Finally, the hydrocarbon potential and the temperature evolution is presented and shown in combination with inferred maturation of the sediments for depth intervals which comprise potential source rocks.