Kinematics of fault-related folding derived from a sandbox experiment

Sylvain Bernard, Jean Philippe Avouac, Stéphane Dominguez, Martine Simoes

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66 Citations (Scopus)


We analyze the kinematics of fault tip folding at the front of a fold-and-thrust wedge using a sandbox experiment. The analog model consists of sand layers intercalated with low-friction glass bead layers, deposited in a glass-sided experimental device and with a total thickness h = 4.8 cm. A computerized mobile backstop induces progressive horizontal shortening of the sand layers and therefore thrust fault propagation. Active deformation at the tip of the forward propagating basal décollement is monitored along the cross section with a high-resolution CCD camera, and the displacement field between pairs of images is measured from the optical flow technique. In the early stage, when cumulative shortening is less than about h/10, slip along the décollement tapers gradually to zero and the displacement gradient is absorbed by distributed deformation of the overlying medium. In this stage of detachment tip folding, horizontal displacements decrease linearly with distance toward the foreland. Vertical displacements reflect a nearly symmetrical mode of folding, with displacements varying linearly between relatively well defined axial surfaces. When the cumulative slip on the décollement exceeds about h/10, deformation tends to localize on a few discrete shear bands at the front of the system, until shortening exceeds h/8 and deformation gets fully localized on a single emergent frontal ramp. The fault geometry subsequently evolves to a sigmoid shape and the hanging wall deforms by simple shear as it overthrusts the flat ramp system. As long as strain localization is not fully established, the sand layers experience a combination of thickening and horizontal shortening, which induces gradual limb rotation. The observed kinematics can be reduced to simple analytical expressions that can be used to restore fault tip folds, relate finite deformation to incremental folding, and derive shortening rates from deformed geomorphic markers or growth strata.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberB03S12
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 4 Mar 2007


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