Deformation of brittle-ductile thrust wedges in experiments and nature



[1] Even though the rheology of thrust wedges is mostly frictional, a basal ductile decollement is often involved. By comparison with purely frictional wedges, such brittle-ductile wedges generally display anomalous structures such as backward vergence, widely spaced thrust units, and nonfrontward sequences of thrust development. Laboratory experiments are used here to study the deformation of brittle-ductile thrust wedges. Results are compared with natural systems in the Jura Mountains and the northern Pakistan Salt Range and Potwar Plateau. Two series of three models are used to illustrate the effects of varying the basal wedge angle (β) and shortening rate (V). These two parameters directly control variations in relative strength between brittle and ductile layers (BD coupling). Wedges with strong BD coupling (low β and high V) give almost regular frontward sequences with closely spaced thrust units and, as such, are not significantly different from purely frictional wedges. Weak BD coupling (high β and low V) gives dominantly backward thrusting sequences. Intermediate BD coupling produces frontward-backward oscillating sequences. The spacing of thrust units increases as coupling decreases. Back thrusts develop in parts of a wedge where BD coupling is weak, regardless of the thrust sequence. Wedges with weak BD coupling need large amounts of bulk shortening (more than 30%) to attain a state of equilibrium, at which stable sliding along the base occurs. On this basis, we argue that a state of equilibrium has not yet been attained in at least some parts of the Jura Mountains and eastern Salt Range and Potwar Plateau thrust systems.