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ABSTRACT

Quantitative geophysical calculations which take into consideration the isostatic loading of sediment overburden, the overlying water cover, and the thermal cooling history of the continental edge, and its adjacent oceanic lithosphere, demonstrate the foundering of the margins of the western Mediterranean had already commenced in the Aquitanian stage of the early Miocene. The calculations are based on magnitudes and rates of sediment accumulation observed along a profile of three commercial boreholes into the subsurface of the continental shelf of southern France. By the time of the late Miocene (Messinian) salinity crisis, the depth of the seafloor within the Balearic basin exceeded 2.5 km.

Sea-level fluctuations induced by evaporitic draw-down permitted the exposure of large tracts of the former submerged continental margins to subaerial processes. The measured magnitude of sediment removal by erosion and channel incision near the outer shelf of the modern Gulf of Lion surpasses 1 km.

The subsidence history of this shelf platform south of France provides new evidence that the continental lithosphere behaves as if it is rigidly coupled to its oceanic counterpart commencing with the initial phase of the pull-apart. No major vertical fault displacements have subsequently offset their overlying crustal layers.

The sedimentary shaping and construction of the margin seaward of the Rhône delta resulted in a pronounced shelf edge migration and slope progradation during the pre-salinity crisis Miocene. It has taken 5 million years of predominant upbuilding to establish a new equilibrium profile similar in cross-section to the precrisis depositional surfaces created by outbuilding.