Structural Observations of the Northern North Sea: Insights into Rift Failure Dynamics

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Gwenn Peron-Pinvidic
Tor Åkermoen
Lars Leivestad


Lithospheric extension leads to rift formation and may continue to the point of breakup, with oceanic ridge initiation and the formation of two conjugate rifted margins. In some settings, extension can cease, and the rift may be abandoned. These so-called failed rifts archive snapshots of early phases of deformation, with geometries that may help better constrain the parameters that can prevent a rift from reaching breakup, such as lithospheric rheology, thermal state, rift opening direction and rate, inheritance. This contribution summarizes a study of the Norwegian Continental Shelf which includes the North Sea Rift and the Møre and Vøring rifted margins. We proceeded to the interpretation of a new dataset of deep penetrating seismic reflection profiles and worked at the regional scale, deliberately ignoring local particularities, to focus on the large-scale structural picture. The aim is to list architectural similarities and differences between the failed rift and the successful rifted margins. Our mapping shows that the North Sea structural geometries and basement seismic facies are very similar to the observations listed for the adjacent Møre and Vøring rifted margins. Various types of tectonic structures are observed, from thick anastomosing shear zones possibly evolving into core-complex geometries, to composite large-scale detachment faults and standard high-angle normal faults. These are categorized into five classes and interpreted as exemplifying the rift tectonic evolution through distinct generations of deformation structures that can activate, de-activate and re-activate. Based on these observations, rift failure dynamics are discussed, and it is proposed that the North Sea rift abandonment may not be related to pre-rift local conditions but rather to the ability to initiate specific tectonic structures such distal breakaway complexes.

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