Indentation of a continent with a built-in thickness change: Experiment and nature

Dimitrios Sokoutis, Marco Bonini, Sergei Medvedev, Mario Boccaletti, Christopher J. Talbot, Hemin Koyi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Orogens oblique to the direction of plate convergence are currently attributed to obliquity between the margins of one or both of the sutured continents to their direction convergence. We use a single analogue experiment and natural examples to illustrate a potential additional factor: variations in strength of the indented continent at a high angle to the convergence direction. The wavelengths of structures in laterally shortened lithosphere depend on the strength of the most competent layers. Lateral variations in crustal thickness must therefore lead to structures oblique to any applied lateral compression. An analogue experiment was performed to explore this phenomenon. A two-layer 'indented continent' was modelled by a brittle upper crust of sand above a lower crust of high-viscosity polymer floating on a single layer of low-viscosity syrup representing the mantle. The well-known strike-slip structures allowing lateral escape to distant weak boundaries were hindered by lateral boundaries in front of the indenter. This allowed us to focus on the effects of a thickness change built into the 'indented continent' along a zone parallel to the direction in which a vertical rigid wall advancing at a steady rate represented the indenter. Vertical escape led to an 'orogenic belt' oblique to the advancing wall; this obliquity influences subsequent lateral escape. Model scaling and interpretations are based on Extended Thin Sheet Approximation (ETSA) and standard theories of faulting. Four sectors of the Alpine-Himalayan orogen (Iran, Tunisia, the Eastern Alps and the Himalaya) are oblique to the continental convergence direction, and we point to thickness changes at high angles to the suture that may account for this geometry. As crustal thicknesses north of oblique sectors of the Himalayas are not yet known, we speculate on them. We infer from the main difference between our experiment and all our examples chosen from nature that vertical orogenic escape was oblique to our model suture but can be parallel to natural sutures. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)243-270
Number of pages28
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2000


  • Analogue modelling
  • Extended Thin Sheet Approximation (ETSA)
  • Indentation tectonics
  • Lateral escape
  • Oblique orogens
  • Transversal crustal thickness variation


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