Thrust tectonics

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Cross-section diagram of the frontal part of a thin-skinned thrust zone Compressional decollement.pdf
Cross-section diagram of the frontal part of a thin-skinned thrust zone

Thrust tectonics or contractional tectonics is concerned with the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, the shortening and thickening of the crust or lithosphere. It is one of the three main types of tectonic regime, the others being extensional tectonics and strike-slip tectonics. These match the three types of plate boundary, convergent (thrust), divergent (extensional) and transform (strike-slip). There are two main types of thrust tectonics, thin-skinned and thick-skinned, depending on whether or not basement rocks are involved in the deformation. The principle geological environments where thrust tectonics is observed are zones of continental collision, restraining bends on strike-slip faults and as part of detached fault systems on some passive margins.


Deformation styles

In areas of thrust tectonics, two main processes are recognized: thin-skinned deformation and thick-skinned deformation. The distinction is important as attempts to structurally restore the deformation will give very different results depending on the assumed geometry. [1]

Thin-skinned deformation

Thin-skinned deformation refers to shortening that only involves the sedimentary cover. This style is typical of many fold and thrust belts developed in the foreland of a collisional zone. This is particularly the case where a good basal decollement exists such as salt or a zone of high pore fluid pressure. [2]

Thick-skinned deformation

Thick-skinned deformation refers to shortening that involves basement rocks rather than just the overlying cover. This type of geometry is typically found in the hinterland of a collisional zone. This style may also occur in the foreland where no effective decollement surface is present or where pre-existing extensional rift structures may be inverted. [3]

Geological environments associated with thrust tectonics

Collisional zones

The most significant areas of thrust tectonics are associated with destructive plate boundaries leading to the formation of orogenic belts. The two main types are: the collision of two continental tectonic plates (for example the Arabian and Eurasian plates, which formed the Zagros fold and thrust belt) and collisions between a continent and an island arc such as that which formed Taiwan. [4]

Restraining bends on strike-slip faults

When a strike-slip fault is offset along strike such that the resulting bend in the fault hinders easy movement, e.g. a right stepping bend on a sinistral (left-lateral) fault, this will cause local shortening or transpression. Examples include the 'Big Bend' region of the San Andreas fault, [5] and parts of the Dead Sea Transform. [6]

Passive margins

Passive margins are characterised by large prisms of sedimentary material deposited since the original break-up of a continent associated with formation of a new spreading centre. This wedge of material will tend to spread under gravity and, where an effective detachment layer is present such as salt, the extensional faulting that forms at the landward side will be balanced at the front of the wedge by a series of toe-thrusts. Examples include the outboard part of the Niger delta (with an overpressured mudstone detachment) [7] and the Angola margin (with a salt detachment). [8]

Related Research Articles

Thrust fault A type of reverse fault that has a dip of 45 degrees or less

A thrust fault is a break in the Earth's crust, across which older rocks are pushed above younger rocks.

Tectonics The processes that control the structure and properties of the Earths crust and its evolution through time

Tectonics are the processes that control the structure and properties of the Earth's crust and its evolution through time. These include the processes of mountain building, the growth and behavior of the strong, old cores of continents known as cratons, and the ways in which the relatively rigid plates that constitute the Earth's outer shell interact with each other. Tectonics also provide a framework for understanding the earthquake and volcanic belts that directly affect much of the global population.

Acadian orogeny North American orogeny

The Acadian orogeny is a long-lasting mountain building event which began in the Middle Devonian, reaching a climax in the early Late Devonian. It was active for approximately 50 million years, beginning roughly around 375 million years ago, with deformational, plutonic, and metamorphic events extending into the Early Mississippian. The Acadian orogeny is the third of the four orogenies that created the Appalachian orogen and subsequent basin. The preceding orogenies consisted of the Potomac and Taconic orogeny, which followed a rift/drift stage in the Late Neoproterozoic. The Acadian orogeny involved the collision of a series of Avalonian continental fragments with the Laurasian continent. Geographically, the Acadian orogeny extended from the Canadian Maritime provinces migrating in a southwesterly direction toward Alabama. However, the Northern Appalachian region, from New England northeastward into Gaspé region of Canada, was the most greatly affected region by the collision.

Nappe A large sheetlike body of rock that has been moved a considerable distance above a thrust fault

In geology, a nappe or thrust sheet is a large sheetlike body of rock that has been moved more than 2 km (1.2 mi) or 5 km (3.1 mi) above a thrust fault from its original position. Nappes form in compressional tectonic settings like continental collision zones or on the overriding plate in active subduction zones. Nappes form when a mass of rock is forced over another rock mass, typically on a low angle fault plane. The resulting structure may include large-scale recumbent folds, shearing along the fault plane, imbricate thrust stacks, fensters and klippe.

Sevier orogeny

The Sevier orogeny was a mountain-building event that affected western North America from northern Canada to the north to Mexico to the south.

The Lewis Overthrust is a geologic thrust fault structure of the Rocky Mountains found within the bordering national parks of Glacier in Montana, United States and Waterton Lakes in Alberta, Canada. The structure was created due to the collision of tectonic plates about 170 million years ago that drove a several mile thick wedge of rock 50 mi (80 km) eastwards, causing it to overlie softer Cretaceous age rock that is 400 to 500 million years younger.

Foreland basin A structural basin that develops adjacent and parallel to a mountain belt

A foreland basin is a structural basin that develops adjacent and parallel to a mountain belt. Foreland basins form because the immense mass created by crustal thickening associated with the evolution of a mountain belt causes the lithosphere to bend, by a process known as lithospheric flexure. The width and depth of the foreland basin is determined by the flexural rigidity of the underlying lithosphere, and the characteristics of the mountain belt. The foreland basin receives sediment that is eroded off the adjacent mountain belt, filling with thick sedimentary successions that thin away from the mountain belt. Foreland basins represent an endmember basin type, the other being rift basins. Space for sediments is provided by loading and downflexure to form foreland basins, in contrast to rift basins, where accommodation space is generated by lithospheric extension.


Décollement is a gliding plane between two rock masses, also known as a basal detachment fault. Décollements are a deformational structure, resulting in independent styles of deformation in the rocks above and below the fault. They are associated with both compressional settings and extensional settings.


In geology, transpression is a type of strike-slip deformation that deviates from simple shear because of a simultaneous component of shortening perpendicular to the fault plane. This movement ends up resulting in oblique shear. It is generally very unlikely that a deforming body will experience "pure" shortening or "pure" strike-slip. The relative amounts of shortening and strike-slip can be expressed in the convergence angle alpha which ranges from zero to 90 degrees. During shortening, unless material is lost, transpression produces vertical thickening in the crust. Transpression that occurs on a regional scale along plate boundaries is characterized by oblique convergence. More locally, transpression occurs within restraining bends in strike-slip fault zones.

Strike-slip tectonics is concerned with the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, zones of lateral displacement within the Earth's crust or lithosphere. It is one of the three main types of tectonic regime, the others being extensional tectonics and thrust tectonics. These match the three types of plate boundary, transform (strike-slip), divergent (extensional) and convergent (thrust). Areas of strike-slip tectonics are associated with particular deformation styles including Riedel shears, flower structures and strike-slip duplexes. This type of tectonics is characteristic of several geological environments, including oceanic and continental transform faults, zones of oblique collision and the deforming foreland of a zone of continental collision.

Fold and thrust belt

A fold and thrust belt (FTB) is a series of mountainous foothills adjacent to an orogenic belt, which forms due to contractional tectonics. Fold and thrust belts commonly form in the forelands adjacent to major orogens as deformation propagates outwards. Fold and thrust belts usually comprise both folds and thrust faults, commonly interrelated. They are commonly also known as thrust-and-fold belts, or simply thrust-fold belts.

Fold mountains Mountains formed by compressive crumpling of the layers of rock

Fold mountains are formed by the effects of folding on layers within the upper part of the Earth's crust. Before the development of the theory of plate tectonics and before the internal architecture of thrust belts became well understood, the term was used to describe most mountain belts, e.g. the Himalayas. The term is still fairly common in the literature of physical geography but has otherwise fallen out of use.

In geology, a basin is a region where subsidence generates accommodation space for the deposition of sediments. A pull-apart basin is a structural basin where two overlapping strike-slip faults or a fault bend creates an area of crustal extension undergoing tension, which causes the basin to sink down. Frequently, the basins are rhombic or sigmoidal in shape. Dimensionally, basins are limited to the distance between the faults and the length of overlap. Pull-apart basins are also referred to as overlapping-tension-zones (OTZ).

Thin-skinned deformation

Thin-skinned deformation is a style of deformation in plate tectonics at a convergent boundary which occurs with shallow thrust faults that only involves cover rocks, and not deeper basement rocks.

Detachment fold

A detachment fold, in geology, occurs as layer parallel thrusting along a decollement develops without upward propagation of a fault; the accommodation of the strain produced by continued displacement along the underlying thrust results in the folding of the overlying rock units. As a visual aid, picture a rug on the floor. By placing your left foot on one end and pushing towards the other end of the rug, the rug slides across the floor (decollement) and folds upward. Figure 1, is a generalized representation of the geometry assumed by a detachment fault.

Zagros fold and thrust belt Geologic zone

The Zagros fold and thrust belt is an approximately 1,800-kilometre (1,100 mi) long zone of deformed crustal rocks, formed in the foreland of the collision between the Arabian Plate and the Eurasian Plate. It is host to one of the world's largest petroleum provinces, containing about 49% of the established hydrocarbon reserves in fold and thrust belts (FTBs) and about 7% of all reserves globally.

Tectonics of the Tian Shan

The Tian Shan is a mountain range in central Asia that extends through western China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The Tian Shan is 2,800 kilometres (1,700 mi) long, and up to 7,400 metres (24,300 ft) high. Throughout the Tian Shan there are several intermontane basins separated by high ranges. Plate tectonic theory makes the assumption that deformation is concentrated along plate boundaries. However, active deformation is observed in the Tian Shan, far from plate boundaries. This apparent contradiction of plate tectonic theory makes the Tian Shan a key place to study the dynamics of intracontinental deformation.

Thick-skinned deformation is a geological term which refers to crustal shortening that involves basement rocks and deep-seated faults as opposed to only the upper units of cover rocks above the basement which is known as thin-skinned deformation. While thin-skinned deformation is common in many different localities, thick-skinned deformation requires much more strain to occur and is a rarer type of deformation.

Geology of the southern North Sea

The North Sea basin is located in northern Europe and lies between the United Kingdom, and Norway just north of The Netherlands and can be divided into many sub-basins. The Southern North Sea basin is the largest gas producing basin in the UK continental shelf, with production coming from the lower Permian sandstones which are sealed by the upper Zechstein salt. The evolution of the North Sea basin occurred through multiple stages throughout the geologic timeline. First the creation of the Sub-Cambrian peneplain, followed by the Caledonian Orogeny in the late Silurian and early Devonian. Rift phases occurred in the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic which allowed the opening of the northeastern Atlantic. Differential uplift occurred in the late Paleogene and Neogene. The geology of the Southern North Sea basin has a complex history of basinal subsidence that had occurred in the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. Uplift events occurred which were then followed by crustal extension which allowed rocks to become folded and faulted late in the Paleozoic. Tectonic movements allowed for halokinesis to occur with more uplift in the Mesozoic followed by a major phase of inversion occurred in the Cenozoic affecting many basins in northwestern Europe. The overall saucer-shaped geometry of the southern North Sea Basin indicates that the major faults have not been actively controlling sediment distribution.

Geology of Myanmar

The geology of Myanmar is shaped by dramatic, ongoing tectonic processes controlled by shifting tectonic components as the Indian plate slides northwards and towards Southeast Asia. Myanmar spans across parts of three tectonic plates separated by north-trending faults. To the west, a highly oblique subduction zone separates the offshore Indian plate from the Burma microplate, which underlies most of the country. In the center-east of Myanmar, a right lateral strike slip fault extends from south to north across more than 1,000 km (620 mi). These tectonic zones are responsible for large earthquakes in the region. The India-Eurasia plate collision which initiated in the Eocene provides the last geological pieces of Myanmar, and thus Myanmar preserves a more extensive Cenozoic geological record as compared to records of the Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras. Myanmar is physiographically divided into three regions: the Indo-Burman Range, Myanmar Central Belt and the Shan Plateau; these all display an arcuate shape bulging westwards. The varying regional tectonic settings of Myanmar not only give rise to disparate regional features, but they also foster the formation of petroleum basins and a diverse mix of mineral resources.


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