Tectonics: Modeling Lithospheric Thickness Along the Conjugate South Atlantic Passive Margins Implies Asymmetric Rift Initiation

The lithospheric architecture of passive margins is crucial for understanding the tectonic processes that caused the breakup of Gondwana. We highlight the evolution of the South Atlantic passive margins by a simple thermal lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB) model based on onset and cessation of rifting, crustal thickness, and stretching factors. We simulate lithospheric thinning and select the LAB as the T = 1,330°C isotherm, which is calculated by 1D advection and diffusion. Stretching factors and margin geometry are adjusted to state-of-the-art data sets, giving a thermal LAB model that is especially designed for the continental margins of the South Atlantic. Our LAB model shows distinct variations along the passive margins that are not imaged by global LAB models, indicating different rifting mechanisms. For example, we model up to 200 km deep lithosphere in the South American Santos Basin and shallow lithosphere less than 60 km in the Namibe Basin offshore Africa. These two conjugate basins reflect a strong asymmetry in LAB depth that resembles variations in margin width. In a Gondwana reconstruction, we discuss these patterns together with seismic velocity perturbations for the Central and Austral Segments of the margins. The shallow lithosphere in the Namibe Basin correlates with signatures of the Angola Dome, attributed to epeirogenic uplift in the Neogene, suggesting an additional component of post-breakup lithospheric thinning.

Haas, P., Müller, R.D., Ebbing, J., Finger, N.P., Kaban, M.K. and Heine, C., 2022. Modeling lithospheric thickness along the conjugate South Atlantic passive margins implies asymmetric rift initiation. Tectonics41(9), p.e2021TC006828.

The paper was highlighted in April 2023 in Research Highlights of Nature Reviews Earth & Environment: