Many rifted margins are thought to have formed in areas that have previously experienced subduction and orogenesis. Yet, our understanding of how structural and thermal inheritance from preceding convergence affects rifting is still incomplete. We use 2D thermo-mechanical numerical models to investigate how the size of a collisional orogen affects the style of subsequent continental rifting. Our models build an orogen through subduction and collision before the onset of rifting. We focus on the deformation style of the resulting rifted margins and the degree in which inheritance is utilized.
We find that the style of extension changes with the size of the orogen. A narrow orogen produces a narrow margin on the side of the overriding plate with core-complex-style reactivation of the subduction interface while a large amount of oceanic material is preserved in the conjugate margin. In contrast, wide orogens localize rifting away from the subduction interface: the subduction interface is temporarily reactivated, but deformation quickly shifts to the thick orogenic assembly resulting in wide rifted margins. Ductile deformation in the lower crust promotes localization of simultaneously active conjugate shear-zones in the brittle crust above. Rifting in these experiments occurs within the subducting plate.
Our results demonstrate a wide range of features that can form in the presence of inherited compressional structures and emphasise the importance of taking the deformation history into account when trying to understand the evolution of continental rifting.