EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Exploring rift magmatism and evolution through gravity analysis of North America's failed rifts

Reece Elling1, Seth Stein1, Carol Stein2, and G. Randy Keller3
Reece Elling et al.
  • 1Northwestern University, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Evanston, IL, United States of America
  • 2University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, United States of America
  • 3University of Oklahoma Norman Campus, Norman, OK, United States of America

Comparative study of North America’s failed continental rifts allows investigation of the effects of extension, magmatism, magmatic underplating and rift inversion in the evolution of rifting. We explore this issue by examining the gravity signatures of the Midcontinent Rift (MCR), Reelfoot Rift (RR), and Southern Oklahoman Aulacogen (SOA). The ~1.1 Ga MCR records aspects of the complex assembly of Rodina, while the structures related to the ~560 Ma RR and SOA formed during the later breakup of Rodinia and subsequent assembly of Pangea. Combining average gravity anomalies along each rift with seismic data, we examine whether these data support the existence of high-density residual melt underplates (“rift pillows”), reflect the possible amounts of inversion, and whether these rifts should be considered analogs of one another at different stages in rift evolution. The MCR and SOA have strong gravity highs along much of their length. Furthermore, the west and east arms of the MCR have different gravity signatures. The west arm of the MCR has a positive gravity anomaly of 80-100 mgals, while the east arm and SOA have positive anomalies of only 40-50 mgals. The RR does not exhibit a high positive anomaly along much of its length. The positive anomalies of both arms of the MCR and SOA reflect 10-20 km thick underplates at the base of the crust. These gravity anomalies also reflect greater amounts of inversion, during which the rift-bounding normal faults are reactivated by later compression, bringing the high-density igneous rocks closer to the surface. By averaging gravity data along the length of each failed rift, we can more easily distinguish between the history of individual rifts and general features of rifting that apply to other failed or active rifts around the world.

How to cite: Elling, R., Stein, S., Stein, C., and Keller, G. R.: Exploring rift magmatism and evolution through gravity analysis of North America's failed rifts, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-3187,, 2021.


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