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Solid Earth An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 20 Sep 2018

Research article | 20 Sep 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Solid Earth (SE).

A systematic comparison of experimental set-ups for modelling extensional tectonics

Frank Zwaan1,2, Guido Schreurs1, and Susanne Buiter3,4 Frank Zwaan et al.
  • 1Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 1+3, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Current affiliation: Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Via La Pira, 4, 50121 Florence, Italy
  • 3Team for Solid Earth Geology, Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), Leiv Eirikssons vei 39, 7040 Trondheim, Norway
  • 4The Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics, University of Oslo, Sem Sælands vei 2A, 0371 Oslo, Norway

Abstract. Analogue modellers investigating extensional tectonics often use different machines, set-ups and model materials, so that direct comparisons of results from different studies can be challenging. Here we present a systematic comparison of crustal-scale analogue experiments using simple set-ups simulating extensional tectonics, involving either a foam base, a rubber base, rigid basal plates or a conveyor base to deform overlying brittle-only or brittle-viscous models. We use X-ray computed tomography (CT) techniques for a detailed 3D analysis of internal and external model evolution.

We find that our brittle-only experiments are strongly affected by the specific set-up, as the materials are directly coupled to the model base. Experiments with a foam or rubber base undergo distributed faulting, whereas experiments with a rigid plate or conveyor base experience localized deformation and the development of discrete rift basins. Pervasive boundary effects may occur due to extension-perpendicular contraction of a rubber base. Brittle-viscous experiments are less affected by the experimental setup than their brittle-only equivalents as the viscous layer acts as a buffer that decouples the brittle layer from the base. Brittle-viscous plate base and conveyor base experiments only localize deformation with high brittle-to-viscous thickness ratios that increases brittle-viscous coupling. This effect is further enhanced by higher strain rates.

Our set-ups are most appropriate for investigating crustal-scale extension in continental and selected oceanic settings. Specific combinations of set-up and model materials may be used for studying young or old regions, or wide or narrow extension. Here, natural factors as temperature variations, extension rate, water content and lithology should be carefully considered. We hope that our experimental overviews may serve as a guide for future experimental studies of extensional tectonics.

Frank Zwaan et al.
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Frank Zwaan et al.
Frank Zwaan et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
This work was inspired by an effort to numerically reproduce laboratory models of extension tectonics. We tested various set-ups to find a suitable analogue model and in the process systematically charted the impact of set-ups and boundary conditions on model results, a topic poorly described in existing scientific literature. We hope that the our model results and the discussion on which specific tectonic settings they could represent may serve as a guide for future (analogue) modeling studies.
This work was inspired by an effort to numerically reproduce laboratory models of extension...