30. Cratonic Basins

  1. Cathy Busby2 and
  2. Antonio Azor3
  1. Philip A. Allen and
  2. John J. Armitage

Published Online: 30 JAN 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781444347166.ch30

Tectonics of Sedimentary Basins: Recent Advances

Tectonics of Sedimentary Basins: Recent Advances

How to Cite

Allen, P. A. and Armitage, J. J. (2011) Cratonic Basins, in Tectonics of Sedimentary Basins: Recent Advances (eds C. Busby and A. Azor), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444347166.ch30

Editor Information

  1. 2

    Department of Earth Science, University of California, Santa Barbara CA 93106, USA

  2. 3

    Departamento de Geodinámica, Universidad de Granada, Campus de Fuentenueva, s/n, 18071 Granada, Spain

Author Information

  1. Department of Earth Science & Engineering, Imperial College, South Kensington Campus, London SW7 2AZ, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2012
  2. Published Print: 30 DEC 2011

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9781405194655

Online ISBN: 9781444347166



  • continental lithosphere;
  • stretching;
  • strain rate;
  • subsidence;
  • stratigraphy


Cratonic basins are sites of prolonged, broadly distributed but slow subsidence of the continental lithosphere, and are commonly filled with shallow water and terrestrial sedimentary rocks. They remain poorly understood geodynamically. A number of models have been proposed that fall into families involving cooling of stretched continental lithosphere, cooling related to mantle flow (dynamic topography), densification of the underlying lithosphere due to phase changes, the surface response to magmatism and/or plume activity, and long-wavelength buckling under in-plane stresses.

The timing of initiation and spatial distribution of cratonic basin formation are linked to geodynamic phases within the overall framework of plate amalgamation and supercontinental break-up and dispersal. Many cratonic basins initiated in the Neoproterozoic and Cambrian-Ordovician. Some suites of cratonic basins originated as broad ramp-like realms of subsidence tilting down to the adjacent passive margin, and were later “individualized” by secondary processes such as, for instance, reactivation of tectonic structures during intracontinental orogeny, and the emergence of intervening arches and domes.

Several different mechanisms may therefore control the geological evolution and subsidence history of cratonic basins during their long life-times. We propose that a model of low strain rate extension accompanied and followed by cooling of the underlying lithosphere satisfactorily explains the long-term subsidence history of a range of cratonic basins. However, the precise role played by dynamic topography transmitted from large-scale mantle flow in initiating or modifying the elevation history of continental interiors remains an intriguing focus for further research.