flexural rotation of normal faults


  • W. Roger Buck


A conceptual model is proposed for the generation of low-angle normal faults in Metamorphic Core Complexes. The model is based on three assumptions: (1) the isostatic response to normal fault motion is of regional extent; (2) when a fault segment is significantly rotated from the optimum angle of slip, relative to the crustal stress field, it is replaced by a new planar fault oriented in the optimum direction; and (3) the fault cuts the entire upper crust and fault motion always nucleates in the same region at the base of the upper crust. The stress field is considered to be uniform through the crust and the regional isostatic response of the crust to loads is computed using the thin plate flexure approximations. Active low-angle normal faults are difficult to reconcile with rock mechanics theories, earthquake focal mechanism studies, and geochronologic results indicating rapid cooling of core complex rocks. The model does not require active fault slip on low-angle faults. The flexural response to normal faulting is shown to be significantly affected by anelastic behavior of the crust and by loading due to sedimentation. The anelastic response to large bending stresses results in significant reduction in the effective elastic rigidity of the upper crust. This can explain the observed short wavelength of topographic response to normal fault loads. The model results in: (1) a nearly flat-lying abandoned normal fault (or “detachment”) below slices of upper plate rocks and sedimentary infill; (2) a strong contrast in metamorphic grade across the abandoned “detachment”; (3) rapid movement of lower plate rocks from midcrustal depths to shallower depths. These results are qualitatively in agreement with geologic observations for core complexes.