Post-breakup burial and exhumation of passive continental margins: Seven propositions to inform geodynamic models

Paul F. Green, Peter Japsen, James A. Chalmers, Johan M. Bonow, Ian R. Duddy

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58 Citations (Scopus)


Despite many years of study, the processes involved in the post-breakup development of passive margins remain poorly understood. Integration of apatite fission track analysis (AFTA) and stratigraphic landscape analysis (SLA) at a number of margins has provided new insights into the development of elevated passive continental margins (EPCMs). In particular, by integrating evidence from the preserved rock record and landscape with information on the deposition and erosional removal of rock units which are no longer present (“missing section”) these studies have highlighted the importance of episodic positive and negative vertical km-scale crustal movements. Based on these studies we present seven propositions regarding the formation of EPCMs and the nature of the controlling processes, viz: 1: EPCMs are not the inevitable consequence of rifting and breakup2: Elevated topography at present-day EPCMs developed long after breakup3: Similar EPCM landscapes at different margins suggest similar controlling processes4: EPCMs have undergone episodic km-scale burial and exhumation rather than slow monotonic denudation, both before rifting and after breakup5: Post-breakup km-scale exhumation at continental margins is not restricted to presently elevated onshore regions6: Post-breakup km-scale burial and exhumation have affected presently low lying margins as well as EPCMs7: Exhumation events show a broad level of synchroneity over continents and across oceans and correlate with plate boundary events and changes in plate motions.These propositions imply that positive and negative vertical motions at passive margins are controlled by plate-scale processes. Another key conclusion is that present-day elevation alone provides no clue to the earlier history of a margin. Many of the key aspects of these propositions are absent from current geodynamic models of passive margin development. Understanding the processes that control vertical movements at passive continental margins requires development of realistic geodynamic models that honour these propositions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-81
Number of pages24
JournalGondwana Research
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • AFTA
  • EPCM
  • Exhumation
  • Geodynamic modelling
  • Passive margins
  • SLA
  • Stratigraphic gaps

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 3: Energy Resources


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