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Lithospheric extension from rifting to continental breakup at magma-poor margins: rheology, serpentinisation and symmetry


The symmetry or asymmetry of the process of continental breakup has been much debated over the last 20 years, with various authors proposing asymmetric simple shear models, others advocating more symmetric, pure shear models and some combinations of the two. The unroofing of vast expanses of sub-continental mantle at non-volcanic margins has led some authors to argue in favour of simple shear models, but supporting evidence is lacking. Subsidence evidence from conjugate margin pairs is equivocal, and the detailed crustal and lithospheric structure of such pairs not generally well enough known to draw firm conclusions. In the Porcupine Basin, where the final stages of break-up are preserved, the development of structural asymmetry is demonstrable, and apparently related to late stage coupling of the crust to the mantle following the complete embrittlement of the crust. This agrees with theoretical modelling results, which predict that asymmetric models can develop only on a lithospheric scale when the crust and mantle are tightly coupled. However, whether such asymmetry is maintained during continued exhumation of the mantle is unclear.