High-resolution 3D numerical modeling of thrust wedges: Influence of décollement strength on transfer zones


Corresponding authors: J. B. Ruh, Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, Zurich, 8092, Switzerland. (jonas.ruh@erdw.ethz.ch)


[1] The mechanics and dynamics of thin-skinned compressible thrust wedges with prescribed offsets in the backstop, i.e., transfer zones, are investigated using a three-dimensional finite difference numerical model with a visco-brittle/plastic rheology. The main questions addressed are as follows: (i) What is the influence of the initial length of the backstop offset and (ii) what is the effect of the frictional strength of the main décollement on the structural evolution of the brittle wedges along such transfer zones? Results show that the shorter the backstop offset, the earlier these two thrust planes connect, forming a curved frontal thrust along the entire width of the model. Younger, in-sequence thrusts are formed parallel to this curved shape. Long backstop offsets produce strongly curved thrust faults around the indenting corner. Simulations with a weak basal friction evolve toward almost linear frontal thrusts orthogonal to the bulk shortening direction. Increased basal drag in models with a strong décollement favors propagation of the backstop offset into a transfer zone up to the frontal thrust. These simulations revealed that surface tapers of the wedge in front of the backstop promontory are larger than what the critical wedge theory predicts, whereas the tapers on the other side of the transfer zone are smaller than analytical values. This difference is amplified with increasing length of the backstop offset and/or strength of the décollement. Modeled surface elevation schemes reproduce well the topographic patterns of natural orogenic systems such as the topographic low along the Minab-Zendan transform/transfer fault between the Zagros and Makran.