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Sedimentary basins and global tectoniest

Harold G. Reading
READING, H. G. 1982. Sedimentary basins and global tectonics Proc. Geol. Ass., 93 (4)
321-350. Concepts of geosynclines developed from the study of ancient orogenic belts and
sedimentary basins. Now, however, geophysical data, derived mainly from oceanic areas and
continental margins, have led to the theory of plate tectonics which has largely replaced
geosynclinal theory as the basis for understanding orogenic belts and sedimentary basins. A
variety of basins can now be distinguished which have developed (1) on continental crust either
as large downwarps, such as the Chad basin, or as rift basins following long-Jived fault systems,
such as the East African rift, (2) in association with ocean-floor spreading, as newly formed
rifts, such as the Red Sea, at mid-oceanic spreading centres, as failed rifts, such as the Benue
trough, and at continental margins either rifted or transform, (3) at subduction zones either as
trenches, outer-arc, slope or back-arc-basins, the best examples being along the Indonesian
margin, off New Zealand and Japan, (4) at collision zones such as the Himalayas (5) along
transform/strike-slip belts, such as the onland and offshore Californian basins and the Dead
Sea. In addition, thick sedimentary accumulations may form on oceanic crust as large
submarine fans, such as the Bengal Fan, as sedimentary swells due to thermohaline currents,
such as the Outer Ridge off the Blake Plateau, and as tectonically accreted wedges in fore-arc
regions. Postulated examples of such features in the British Isles include the rifted margins of
the Iapetus ocean and present Atlantic, the Southern Uplands accretionary prism, Midland
Valley fore-arc basin becoming a series of strike-slip basins in Devonian times, the Lake
District island arc and Welsh back-arc basin with sag basins and rift basins in the North Sea.
The old geosynclinal terminology can now usually be abandoned provided it is realized that
many sedimentary basins fall into more than one category and that interpretations of the
ancient are never more than working hypotheses.
Department of Geology and Mineralogy, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, UK
Of all the factors that control sedimentation, tectonics
is the most fundamental. Directly it controls
sedimentary thicknesses, facies and sequences, and
facies patterns. Indirectly it influences local climate,
changes of sea-level, oceanic circulation and the
chemistry and composition of sedimentary source
material. Conversely sedimentation-and erosion-
influence tectonic movements.
The intimate relationship of tectonics to sedimentation
was recognised in the 19th Century in the con-
troversies on the origin of geosynclines. Hall (1859)
argued that geosynclinal subsidence was the result of
sedimentation while Dana (1873) considered that
lateral compression (i.e. tectonics) produced both the
subsidence of the 'geosynclinal belt' and the subse-
quent orogeny. Another controversy which dominated
geosynclinal theory was whether geosynclines were
asymmetrical and formed at continental margins pri-
marily on continental crust, or were symmetrical and
partly oceanic. Most Americans, as they looked
oceanward from an older central craton towards suc-
cessively younger orogenic belts, argued for asymmet-
rical continental accretion. Conversely Europeans,
t Special Invited Lecture.
starting in the middle of the Alps and recognising the
oceanic nature of radiolarian cherts and ophiolites,
generally thought of geosynclines as being symmetrical
and developing on oceanic crust (Fig. 1).
Geosynclinal theory developed almost entirely by
the study of older, now uplifted, mountain belts since
the structure of present-day sedimentary basins was
quite unknown except for the limited gravity data
acquired by Vening Meinesz in the 1920's for the
Indonesian arc and trench. Modern Indonesian basins
were described in geosynclinal terminology rather than
geosynclines being interpreted by analogies with mod-
ern basins. For example, Aubouin (1965) fitted the
Indonesian Sunda Arc into a model based on
Mediterranean Alpine chains. Admittedly analogies
were sometimes drawn with the Gulf of Mexico by
some Americans and with the Persian Gulf and the
Java Trench by some Europeans, but it was not until
the advent of seismic data that the structure of modern
continental margins and offshore sedimentary basins
could be ascertained and they could be used as analo-
gies for ancient geosynclines rather than the other way
round. The first people to do so were Drake, Ewing &
Sutton (1959), who compared the Appalachian
geosyncline with the east coast of North America (Fig.
2) an analogy which was given further stimulus by the
concept of ocean-floor spreading as the cause of the
present Atlantic (Dietz & Holden, 1966). As the
concept of ocean-floor spreading developed into that
,..- - -,-- - - - - - - TROUGH - ------- -----.
Catastrophic eugeosynclinal sediments
Ophiolitic extr usions
Ol ist hostromes
_ Flysch
: . : : : : : : : : : : ; : : : : ~ : ~ : : : : : : : : : : : : : : . : : : .;.:.:.::: : ~ : t r f t ~ : :::::.; .
Thrust zone developing
later into island arcs
sedi ments
. :.:.:::.
Fig. 1. Features of the geosynclinal model of Kuendig (1959). The complete model showed a symmetrical eugeosynclinal
trough passing into a shallow miogeosyncline and cratonic sialic shield on both sides. The surface pattern is essentially that of a
present Atlantic-type continental margin except that Kuendig showed ophiolites (i.e. ocean floor) extruded at the outcrop of
the thrust zone rather than at the centre of the ocean. He showed a 'Benioff' zone which was partly synchronous with an
Atlantic-type margin, but developed later into an island arc.
-- -
-- - - --
10 ,000
20 ,000
/ .........................
Mean Isopach <, .....
..... -
, - - - - - _..... ."
Slope ..Cont inental Rise
Ordovi ci a.{\
Intrusive lava
principally basic
Dist ance (Miles)
50 100
Thickness (I t)
Fig. 2. Comparison of a modern, Atlantic-type, continental margin with the Ordovician of the Appalachian geosyncline as
reconstructed by Kay (1951) (after Drake et al., 1959). A. Surface profile and sediment thickness of present Atlantic margin.
B. Restored section of Cambro-Ordovician.
of plate tectonics and a firm basis grew for understand-
ing modern oceanic basins and continental margins a
spate of publications appeared (e.g. Mitchell & Read-
ing, 1969; Dewey & Bird, 1970; Dickinson, 1971) in
which ancient geosynclines and sedimentary basins
were fitted into a 'modern' framework. Mitchell &
Reading developed an existing terminology which dis-
tinguished between an Atlantic-type (tectonically inac-
tive or passive) continental margin and a Pacific-type
(tectonically active) continental margin into one based
on plate tectonics. They divided continental margins
into three principal types: (1) Atlantic-type, where
continents ride on and are coupled to oceanic crust,
(2) Andean-type, where ocean floor descends beneath
a continent, and (3) Island-are-type, where oceanic
crust descends beneath oceanic crust. These three
types of margin, together with the small ocean basins
lying behind some island arcs (referred to as 'Japan
sea-type'), and small ocean basins between continents
(e.g. the Mediterranean), were used as models for
geosynclines. Mitcheli & Reading also suggested that
there were three types of orogeny: Andean and island
arc-type where ocean floor is going under continent
and ocean respectively and Himalayan-type where two
continents are colliding. Modifications and extensions
of this scheme have been developed during the 1970s.
It is now possible to distinguish several types of basin
depending on whether they are found within lithos-
pheric plates (intraplate settings) or near the margins
of plates (interplate settings). Intraplate basins may
occur either on continental crust or on oceanic crust.
Interplate basins may occur at (1) divergent margins,
where ocean floor is being created, (2) convergent
margins, where lithosphere is being subducted or
where two continents are colliding, and (3) conserva-
tive margins, where lithosphere is neither being cre-
ated nor destroyed and where motion between the two
plates is transform or strike-slip. These divisions
should not be drawn too rigidly since many areas are
undergoing a combination of both extension and
strike-slip (e.g. Gulf of California) or of both converg-
ence and strike-slip (e.g. Burma-Indonesia subduction
complex and the North Island of New Zealand). In
addition, it is in places impossible to ascertain whether
we are dealing with intraplate or interplate phe-
nomena because we cannot define all plate margins
especially where, as in Iran and Afghanistan, the
lithosphere is fragmented into so many microplates.
With these reservations in mind a range of
sedimentary basins within the context of plate tecto-
nics can be described.
(a) Basins on continental crust
Most of the sediment deposited on continents is
ephemeral, temporarily at rest on its way between
__ _ Depth of floor
below sea level
Fig. 3. Map of West Africa to show (1) the large gentle sag
basins, such as the Chad basin (Fig. 4), which develop on
continental crust, (2) the Benue trough, a failed rift or
aulacogen of Cretaceous age (Fig. 7) and (3) the subsequent
miogeoclinal Tertiary Niger delta (Fig. 8) (based on Petters,
1978). Depth to basin floor in metres.
denuding mountains and the sea. However, the pre-
sence of huge accumulations of Old Red and New Red
Sandstone, and of similar 'molasse' in many parts of
the world, testifies to the ability of much of this
sediment to collect on continents in sedimentary or
clastic traps. These are essentially tectonically con-
Some of these traps or basins are relatively slowly
subsiding broad sags on the earth's crust, such as those
off West Africa (Fig. 3). The Chad basin (Fig. 4) has
an area of about 600,000 km
and has subsided at
about 2 cm/lOOO years (20 m/my) (Burke, 1976). The
subsidence of such a basin is controlled not only by
deep-seated plate motion but also by the weight of
sediment and/or water, which varies according to ero-
sion rates of the surrounding highlands and the rainfall
of the area. Another basin of this type is the Michigan
basin where 3.5 km of sediment accumulated in about
150 Ma during the Palaeozoic, with a sedimentation
Fig. 5. East African rift system showing relationship of lakes
to rift tectonics (after King, 1970). The location of most of
the lakes is governed by faults of the rift system and by
volcanoes (e.g. Lake Kivu). Lake Victoria contrasts in being
a broad shallow sag basin between the two main rifts. Drain-
age is mostly away from the rift valleys to that they are
starved of clastic sediment. Sedimentation is biologically and
chemically controlled. Most of the lakes are fresh (i.e. have a
salinity < 5%0 of dissolved salts). Some are alkaline saline
lakes (e.g. Lakes Magadi and Natron). Depths range from
about 100 m for Lakes Albert and Rudolf to over 1400 m for
Lakes Tanganyika and Kivu (Beadle, 1974).
20' E
\ >:
0 ..... --...-
.... , <,
........... ..: :
: Lake .:
". Mega .....
-, :: ::.chad/
. Lake

N d

rate similar to that of the Chad basin (Haxby, Turcotte
& Bird, 1976).
Some of these large sag basins, such as the Michigan
and Hudson Bay basins, lay under platform seas dur-
ing deposition. Others were filled by fresh water and
may have been centres for internal drainage. A char-
acteristic feature of the latter is the very wide fluctua-
tions in area due to climatic changes; Lake Chad has
fluctuated between 25 and 10,000 km
during the pre-
sent century and has extended over at least 300,000
in the last 10,000 years (Servant & Servant, 1970).
Of a very different nature, and much smaller, are
the rift basins, such as those in the East African rifts,
the Baikal rift and the Rhinegraben, Although the
Rhine now flows along the last, rift valleys are general-
Fig. 4. The Chad Basin. Map shows extent of present Lake
Chad, extent of Lake Megachad about 10,000 years ago, and
the area of the drainage basin (outlined by dashes). Stippled
areas are peripheral uplifts. The cross-section shows the
extent of Lake Megachad and thickness of sediment fill (after
Burke, 1976).
ly starved of sediment because the marginal lip is the
highest topographic feature and sediment is carried
away from the graben itself. Sediment-starved basins
become lakes and hence lakes, both freshwater and
saline, are a characteristic feature of rifts, particularly
where the rift is broken up by cross-faults, by offset-
ting of the main rift-margin faults, or by volcanoes, as
in the East African rift (Fig. 5). Sedimentary thick-
nesses up to 2 km are known beneath some lakes in
the East African rift system; in the Baikal rift they are
up to 5 km thick, and the present lake bottom is over
1,600 m below sea-level.
The origin of these rifts is controversial. In the early
days of plate tectonics the East African and Baikal
rifts were taken as examples of the early stages of
sea-floor spreading before horizontal separation had
begun (e.g. Drake, 1972). The great age of the East
African rift and recent geological and geophysical
observations suggest it can equally well be considered
to be a 5,000 km long taphrogenic lineament affecting
the whole of the lithosphere, dating from at least the
Archaean 2,500 Ma ago, and which has been reacti-
vated by later thermo-tectonic events (McConnell,
1980). It is one of the major long-lived fundamental
systems (Reading, 1980) which may form extensive
dislocation zones in the Precambrian (Sutton &
Watson, 1974; Watson, 1980). Many of these are
confined to continental crust and have nothing to
do with ocean-floor spreading. The Baikal rift has
been looked upon as a result of early spreading. It
too is probably better interpreted as a purely continen-
tal feature either resulting from the stresses induced by
the continental collision of the Himalayas (Molnar &
Tapponnier, 1975), or by forces directly beneath the
rift, possibly in the mantle (Bahat, 1981). Similarly,
movements in the Rhinegraben may reflect stresses
generated in the Alps. (lilies & Greiner, 1979).
(b) Basins associated with ocean-floor spreading,
failed rifts and Atlantic-type continental margins
The clearest examples of basins associated with the
early stages of ocean-floor spreading are the Red Sea
and Gulf of Aden. In these cases, simple extension,
with thermal doming demonstrated by the initial out-
pourings of basaltic volcanics, appears to have been
responsible for the rifting. Being in a semi-arid tropic-
al climate, evaporites are a dominant feature of the
sediments. Within the basins, which develop on tilted
fault blocks (Fig. 6), alluvial fans and volcanics are
also prominent. Structurally similar basins formed in
Mesozoic times around the Atlantic, but some of those
developed at higher latitudes in a humid climate;
submarine fans were the main depositional environ-
ment (Surlyk, 1978).
At oceanic spreading centres, particularly the slowly
spreading and highly fractured ones such as the Atlan-
tic, there are many small basins acting as sediment
traps parallel to the ridge crest. The lack of subaerial
source areas, apart from the occasional volcanic is-
land, results in a relative lack of available sediment to
fill these basins, nevertheless some basins only 100 km
from the rift have received 500 m of fine-grained turbi-
dites (Van Andel & Komar, 1969). In addition, there
are basins along fracture zones transverse to the ridges
and yet smaller ones trending diagonally to the frac-
ture zones (Figs. 24 & 25). As the ocean ridge sub-
sides, during cooling of the newly created oceanic
lithosphere, continentally-derived turbidites tend to
overlap the older fractured basins on to the highs, thus
Escarpment Danakil Alps
Ethiopian Plateau I I Danakil Depression , ,Coastal plain,
t' OOO
Fig. 6. Section across the Red Sea and Danakil depression showing how Mesozoic sandstones and limestones, which thicken
to the seaward, were block faulted and tilted landward in Tertiary times as the present Red Sea began to form. Fissure basalts
formed at the intersection of horsts and graben and up to 3000 m of volcanics and volcaniclastic rocks accumulated on the
flanks of the Danakil Alps. These pass laterally into marine pyroclastics and then evaporites, which are mainly halite, in the
Oligo-Miocene of the eastern graben and gypsiferous in the Pliocene to Recent of the Danakil depression (after Hutchinson &
Engels, 1970).
., 'II
101-..-:::::;;;;...;...:..-.....:..;.;"'--- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ---'
Fig. 7. Cross-section through the Benue Trough failed rift or aulacogen and the Tertiary Niger delta (after Burke et al., 1972;
Petters, 1978). Major folding in Santonian times, with folds parallel to the axis of the rift and over 2 km of sediment removed,
separates the Cretaceous aulacogen phase from the Cretaceous to Present miogeoclinal phase.
o km 100
Fig. 8. Schematic cross-section of the miogeoclinal Tertiary
Niger Delta. The present day facies changes from deep water
pelagic sediments passing landwards into submarine fans,
slope shales with diapirs, deltaic sandstones and shales, to
coarser fluvial and interfluvial sediments are represented in
the 1()""12 km thick vertical succession of the trough. The
open arrows indicate that there is seaward flowage of shales,
producing diapirs, and downward sinking of deltaic sediments
due to the overburden of delta top and fluvial sediments
(after Weber, 1971; Burke, 1972).
smoothing out the rugged oceanic topography and
forming abyssal plain basins of very wide extent but no
great thickness (Fig. 9).
At the margins of the Atlantic there are rifts which
began, probably at triple junctions, as the Atlantic
opened, but where spreading and opening have
ceased. These basins are the so-called failed rifts,
sometimes referred to as aulacogens after the sup-
posed ancient equivalents found in the USSR and
Canada (Burke, 1977). The best known is the Benue
trough (Figs. 3 & 7) where a 1,000 km long and
100 km wide trough of Cretaceous age, striking into
the African continent from the NE shoulder of South
America (Burke, Dessauvagie & Whiteman, 1972),
collected 5 km of fluvial, deltaic and marine sedi-
ments. Seaward of the aulacogen a Tertiary delta built
out as the Atlantic opened to give a further 12 km
thick sedimentary succession (Fig. 8). The Tertiary
sediments consist of sandstones, deposited in sub-
marine fans, underlain by a thin oceanic pelagic layer
and overlain by thick marine shales. The latter are
succeeded by deltaic sandstones and siltstones which
are overlain by coarser fluvial deposits. In detail there
are complex patterns of interfingering fluvial and tidal
channel sandstones, beach/barrier sandstones,
offshore and interftuvial muds. Petroleum is generated
in the marine shales and trapped by growth faults and
their associated roll-over anticlines to accumulate in
various types of fluvial and deltaic reservoir sand-
stones (Weber, 1971; Weber & Daukoru, 1975).
Continental margins are large asymmetrical down-
warps-the original American miogeoclinal and
eugeoclinal couplet of Dietz & Holden (1966). Under-
lying the margins are extensional rift valleys filled by
thick continental sediments in the early stages of rift-
ing. These may develop into linear troughs parallel
with the continental margin and filled by as much as
500,000 knr' of shallow marine sediments (Fig. 10) as
the margins pass from an extensional rifting
(taphrogenic) stage to one of simple basinal subsi-
dence and miogeoclinal progradation of sediments
(Kent, 1977). Some continental margins are modified
by salt diapirism. Seaward dipping sediments drape
over the older rocks and change laterally from shelf
through slope to continental rise sediments. Rates of
sedimentation and subsidence on the shelf may have
Fig. 9. Generalized cross-section across the western Atlantic (after Dewey & Bird, 1970). Notice in part icular the small
oceanic ridge basins , the broad onlapping turbidite-filled abyssal plains, the fine-grained sedimentar y build-up of contourites
forming the Outer Ridge (and also much of the continental rise) , the thick continental rise sediment ary wedge and the
continental shelf wedge overlying rift sediments.
Delt aic
15+-- ------,--- - ------,r-- --------.--- - - - - -..,----J
50 100 150 200km
Fig. 10. Schematic cross section through the Balt imore Canyon trough which underlies the present coasta l plain, conti nental
shelf and upper continental slope off the eastern United States. The trough is about 500 km long, parallel with the present
shoreline, and lOO-Zoo km wide, with up to 14 km of mainly Mesozoic sediments (contrast Fig. 9). Triassic continental
rift-valley sandstones are followed by parti ally synchronous marginal marine evapo rites and then very thick transgressive
Jurassic shelf limestones with car bonate reef build-ups over highs. Shorewards ther e is passage into marginal marine
sandstones. A major early Cre taceous prograding wedge is followed by a late Cretaceous transgression . The Tertiary
configurati on is one of delta progradat ion with minor transgression , passing seaward into slope deposits of uncert ain age and
thickne ss (after Poag, ] 979; Schlee, 1981).
Fig. 11. Location and thickness of Neogene slumps off SW
Africa, a typical Atlantic-type passive margin. Slumps range
to over 450 m in thickness.
risen to as much as 10 emil ,000 years in the Jurassic of
the Baltimore Canyon trough, but generally are of the
order of 1-4 emil ,000 years (Grow, Mattick & Schlee,
Fig. 13. Generalized model of a subaqueous outer continen-
tal margin rotational slump (after Dingle, 1977, 1980).
1979). The major sedimentary processes on the shelf
are waves, storms and tidal currents, and some bioche-
mical accumulation of carbonates, occasionally de-
veloping into reefs, or phosphates. On the slope and
rise mass-flow is probably the most important
sedimentary process, in particular turbidity currents
when sea-level was low. However, downslope sliding
on a variety of scales is only now being appreciated to
the full as an almost ubiquitous process on 'passive'
margins (Embley & Jacobi, 1977). Some of these
slipped masses are up to 70,000 km
in area and may
contain 17,000 krrr' sediment (Dingle, 1980) (Figs. 11,
12 & B),
Turbidity currents are the main transporting and
depositing mechanism for the large deep-sea fans
which build out at the foot of continental slopes on
passive margins. For example, the Laurentian Fan off
Nova Scotia (Stow, 1981), which is relatively elongate
and composed of fine-grained sediment, extends
600 km from the base of the slope out on to the
abyssal plain. Approximately 2-3 km of sediment have
accumulated since the Miocene (Uchupi & Austin,
\\ \ ~ \
,I I
35'S Slump thickness
o km 200
I 1 I
Childs Bank .....
Slump /
Chamais ____
(' .....
30' ... ..
" . ".
A 2
,-p ------ --:.-- / ;' Early Upper Cretaceous slump
Fig. 12. Cross section through continental margin off SW Africa (Line A-B on Fig. 11) showing a Neogene slump underlain
by Cretaceous slumps and intervening unslumped sediments. Palaeogene slumps are also recognized on this margin but do not
occur in this section. the Cretaceous slumps are thought to represent Mississippi delta-type down-slope sediment cascades with
reverse faulting and diapirism. They formed when the Orange River was bringing down abundant sediment, in contrast to the
Tertiary slumps, which formed when terrigenous sediment input was lower (after Dingle, 1980). Vertical scale in seconds
below sea-level datum.
1979) with sedimentation rates of IG-30 cm/1,000
years (Stow, 1981).
In addition much fine-grained sediment is trans-
ported in nepheloid layers-slow-moving suspension
currents-which carry silt and mud from the shelf out
on to the continental slope and rise. Of very great
importance in the North Atl antic as an eroding, trans-
porting and depositing agent is the thermohaline con-
tour-following current , which, in the northern hemis-
phere, flows anticlockwise and carries silt and fine
sand southwards off the eastern seaboard of North
America (Hollister & Heezen , 1972). These contour
currents are not only important in the development of
the continental slope and rise but also have produced
broad sedimentary swells out in the oceans such as the
Outer Ridge off the Blake Plateau (Fig. 9) and the
Greater Antilles Outer Ridge . The latter is 1,800 km
long, 1lG-220 km wide and is composed of more than
100,000 krrr' of sediment up to 700 m thick and depo-
sited at rate s up to 30 cm/1,000 years , more than 10
times that in the surrounding abyssal plains (Tucholke,
1975) .
(c) Subduction-related basins
At convergent margins there are 5 areas where
sedimentary successions accumulate-on the down-
going oceanic plate well out in the ocean, in the
trench, in small basins on the slope of the inner wall of
the trench, in the outer-arc or fore-arc basin seaward
of the volcanic arc and in the back-arc basins behind
the volcanic arc. In addition, apparently thick
sedimentary successions may be tectonically stacked in
the accretionary prism of the fore-arc (Fig. 14).
". '.' ~ \ ' l\1\\OSPI1ERE
. . . 0\.1\\'<_ '"_-----'
~ ,nuS\
'Su'll,, "t \\OO \
\ _ < s ~ D P e basins
~ ~
Fig. 14. Model of an obliquely subducting mar gin, e.g. North
Island of New Zealand; Sumatra (after Walcott , 1978; Lewis,
1980). Movement of the trench and accretionary prism is
essentially convergent with a very minor strike-slip compo-
nent. Movement in the front al ridge , volcanic arc and in the
back-arc basin (not shown) is essentially by strike-slip (here
shown to be dextral) , with some extension. Thick
sedimentary sequences may develop on the subducting plate
(e.g. Bengal fan) , in the trench (e.g. off Oregon) , in slope
basins (e.g . New Zealand) , in the fore-arc basin (e.g. off
Sumatra) , within the volcanic ar c or in the back-arc basins
(e.g. Anadaman Sea). Tectonic thickening of the accretion-
ary prism gives an apparentl y thick succession.
The largest sedimentary pile forming on oceanic
crust out in an ocean today is the Bengal Fan (Moore,
Curray, Raitt & Emmel, 1974). This extends 3,000 km
into the Indi an Ocean from the Ganges-Brahmarutra
delta. The area of the fan is about 3,000,000 krn ; the
thickness of sediments ranges up to about 15 km with
an average of 7.5 km so that the volume of fan sedi-
ments is about 20,000,000 krrr' (Graham, Dickinson &
Ingersoll, 1975), and this does not include the volume
already accreted (see below) . The fan sediment s have
been deposited since continental collision between
India and Asia started about 55 Ma ago giving a rate
of sedimentation of 2- 10 cmll ,OOOyears.
Trench sediments are generally not very thick and
few have successions more than 500 m unless they are
close to continental margins in humid regions, where
they may be completely filled (e.g. off Oregon, off
Central America, in the Mediterranean). In the Aleu-
tian trench, Piper , von Huene & Duncan (1973) have
shown that trench sedimentation is by lateral slumping
down the wall of the trench and longitudinal turbidity
currents flowing in a 2.5-6 km wide channel.
Accretionary prisms are tectonicall y thickened
wedges which occur where sediments deposited on the
ocean floor or in trenches are scraped off as a series of
slices as the subduction zone migrates seawards and
the fore-arc stack gradually rises upward with succes-
sive steepening of the thrust surfaces (Figs. 14 & 19).
Although the highly folded str ata in each slice young
towards the volcanic are, individual slices become
younger towards the ocean because they are remnants
of progressively younger slices of oceanic sediments
and ocean floor created at the spreading centre. The
best know examples of accreti onary prisms are off
Central America (Seely, Vail & Walton, 1974), off
Oregon (Kulm & Fowler , 1974) and off Japan (Okada,
1980) where they are submerged. Off the North Island
of New Zealand (Walcott, 1978; Lewis, 1980; van der
Lingen , 1982), along the Barbados Ridge (Westbrook,
1975), off southern Alaska in the eastern Aleutians
(Dickinson & Seely, 1979; von Huene, 1979) and
along the Arakan Yoma-Andaman-Nicobar-Mentawai
ridge (Karig, Lawrence, Moore & Curray, 1980)
which stretches from Burma to Sumatra they are
partl y exposed on land .
Sitting upon the accretionar y prisms are small
sedimentary basins known as accretionary basins
(Dickinson & Seely, 1979) inner slope basins or just
slope basins. Off the North Island of New Zealand
they are 5-30 km wide, 1G-60 km long and contain up
to 2-3 km of sediment (Lewis, 1980) (Fig. 15). On
Nias Island , near Sumatra (Moore & Karig, 1976;
Moore, Billman, Hehanussa & Karig, 1980) and in
New Zealand the sediments are largely terrigenous
with turbidites, some quite coarse-grained, hemipela-
gic muds , and debris flows as well as volcanic ash (van
der Lingen & Pettinga, 1980; Lewis, 1980) (Fig. 16).
Slumps and slides also occur , some having a volume of
.::':' :" . . . -:
178 176E
' . ::
" :.: : ~ : '


.... .
:: .
I:: :' ~
.. ' . . " :
" ' . .....:.
... .
40 8
3J ..i ,..>
.~ : "
Fig. 15. Map of North Island of New Zealand (after Lewis, 1980; van der Lingen & Pettinga, 1980) showing volcanic arc and
forearc region, the Tonga-Kerrnadec island arc to the north and the strike-slip fault belt at the northeastern end of the Alpine
Fault. Notice the inner slope sedimentary basins of probable late Pliocene to Quaternary age. Lines represent faults. Lines of
'V's represent major submarine canyons. Shelf edge shown by large dots. Stippled areas are sedimentary basins. Miocene
basins are not shown (e.g. Makara basin where section in Fig. 16 is shown by cross).
Middle and Upper
Miocene sediments
Plio Pleistocene
50g ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ / ~ ~ ~ "''-'<<1'=
metr es
Fig. 16. Cross section through the Miocene inner slope Makara basin, North Island, New Zealand (after van der Lingen &
Pettinga, 1980). Isoclinally folded Mesozoic-Palaeogene 'basement' rocks form an imbricate landward-dipping thrust zone with
associated melanges. Neogene basins form between the ridges, the Makara basin shown here being 30 x 20 km in area and
filled by 2200 m of turbidites, pebbly mudstones, rhyolitic tuff beds and hemipelagic mudstones The central anticline is
probably a late feature.
Fig. 17. Structural profile of the Japan trench inner slope off
northern Honshu (after Okada, 1980). There is not a substan-
tial accreti onary prism and off-scraping of oceanic sediment s
is on a small scale. Neogene sediments tend to drape the
inner slope and slumping is a dominant process. Notice the
extensional horst and graben structure under the lower inner
slope and the imbricate thrust structure higher up. Vertical
scale is in seconds below sea level.
8 krrr' (Lewis, 1971). In the Quaternary of New Zea-
land , uplift of hills may be as much as 170 cml1,000
years and subsidence of the basins as much as 150 eml
1,000 year s so that there might be 3 km of differential
movement in a million years. In this time sediments
can be tilted 30 (Lewis, 1980) so that sedimentation is
both rapid and synchronous with deformation. Cal-
culations made for Nias Island (Moore et al., 1980) on
compacted Miocene sediments in slope basins suggest
sedimentation rates of 24-53 cmll ,OOO years, which
would be 50-100 cm11 ,000 years of uncompacted sedi-
ment. Uplift of the trench slope basins calculated over
the 20 my of the Miocene was at a rate of 20 emil ,000
years. Off Japan the sediments are finer grained with
coarse turbidites absent and yet no significant pelagic
material. Here , the sediments tend to drape the accre-
tionary pri sm rather than to accumulate in small basins
and large-scale slumping is more important than off
New Zealand (Okada, 1980) (Fig. 17).
Fore-arc basins (outer-arc troughs) are relatively
large (50-100 km wide) basins lying between the vol-
canic arc and the structural high (trench-slope break)
at the top of the accretionary prism. In oceani c arcs
they may overlie oceanic crust, but the better known
fore-arc basins lie on older continental crust or on the
oldest part of the accretion ary prism. In New Zea-
land the fore-arc basin is not very obvious, but may be
represented by the Raukumar a deep-sea plain in the
north and the series of onland Quaternary basins
which extend SW from Hawke Bay to Cook Strait
(Fig. 15). These are considered by Lewis (1980) to
develop from the highest accretionary basin (Fig. 14).
The most extensive fore-ar c basin system is that which
lies off Sumatr a and runs discontinuously northwards
as far as onland Burma for about 3,000 km (Curray,
Moore, Lawver , Emmel , Raitt , Henry & Kieckhefer,
6 (j)
7 -g
8 ()
9 (/)
1979). Off Sumatra about 4 km of sediment have
accumulated since late Oligocene times (Karig et al,
1980) at a rate of about 15 cm11,000 years. The sedi-
ments include a high proportion of volcanically de-
rived ash and montmorillonitic clays, and turbidites
grading up into shallow water sediments. In detail the
basin shape and turbidite fill are controlled by right-
lateral strike-slip faults that splay across the fore- arc
basin from the Sumatra fault zone (Fig. 18). The basin
widened with time as the subduction zone migrated
southwestwards and the cont inental margin to the NE
subsided (Fig. 19). Off Jap an the fore-arc basins are
up to 200 km long and 50 km wide and contain sedi-
ment s up to 5 km thick off northern Honshu (Okada,
1980). The best known exposed fore-arc basin is the
late Jurassic-Cretaceous Gre at Valley sequence of the
Sacramento Valley of California (Dickinson & Seely,
Back-arc basins occur on continental crust , on
oceanic crust which is older than that of the volcanic
are, and on oceanic crust which is younger than the
volcanic arc and has formed by sea-floor spreadi ng and
migrat ion of the volcanic arc away from an older
Some back-arc areas, particul arly those on the west-
ern side of the Pacific are formed by extension . The
Japan Sea, behind the Japanese Island are, is a very
large and complex basin filled by thick sediments as
varied as those to be found in major oceans. The
Okinawa trough behind the Ryukyu Island arc to the
south of Japan is a smaller one where normal faulting
allowed turbidites to be deposited and then deformed
as extension proceeded (Herman, Anders on &
Truchan , 1979).
The And aman Sea behind the Burma-Indonesia arc
is a much more complex basin with substantial strike-
slip and creation of new ocean floor . In these respect s,
and in the fact that the cont inent faces west, it has
similarities to the Gulf of California (Curray et al.,
1979). The Andaman Sea (Rodolfo, 1969a,b) is
1,200 km long and 650 km wide with a 250 km wide
shelf on the east (Fig. 18). A central volcanic arc
separates two troughs, a western one forming the
fore-arc basin and an eastern one which is much
deeper (down to over 4,000 m) and has narr ow rift
valleys 5-8 km wide and 500 m deep trend ing ENE-
WSW. These rift valleys are the spreading centres of
pull-apart basins associated with the major dextr al
strike-slip fault which divides a thin strip of Burma
Plate from the main China Plat e (Curray et al., 1979).
Sediments in this eastern trough are surprisingly
thin-s-only 1.5 km-s-consider ing the huge input of
sediment from the Irrawaddy River delta, reflecting
the youthfulness of the basin. Sedimentation rates for
unconsolidated sediments range from an average of
15 cml1,000 years in the Central Andaman trough to
200 cmll,OOO years in front of the Irr awaddy delt a
(Rodolpfo, 1969, b). The structural patt ern can be
Fig. 18. Burma-Indonesia arc-trench system (Cur ray et al.,
1979; Karig et al., 1980) to show how an obliquely converging
margin has elements of (1) convergence and compression in
the fore-arc zone (see also Fig. 19), (2) strike-slip within the
volcanic arc, in the fore-arc zone and in the back-arc area of
the Andaman Sea and (3) extension in the back-arc basin
where spreading centres are forming as pull-apart basins.
Sediments from the Bengal and Nicobar Fans are accreted on
the fore-arc. The whole complex extends for over 3000 km
but is made up of several distinct belts. Because of the
enormous input of sediment the features change along the
belts from those of a marine subduction complex to those of
a continental one.
followed northwards into Burma where the volcanic
arc separates the western fore-arc basin from the
eastern back-arc basin, though locally Irrawaddy delta
sediments cover all structural zones. In Burma the
sedimentary fill is perhaps 12 km in the fore-arc (west-
ern) trough (Rodolfo, 1969, a) and 17 km in the back-
arc trough (Mitchell & McKerrow, 1975), a thickness
which Curray et al., argue is indicative of underlying
oceanic crust. Thus this whole 'geosynclinal complex'
extends from northern Burma to the Malacca Straits
off northern Sumatra as a series of belts: trench,
accretionary prism with slope basins, fore-arc trough,
island arc and back-arc basin. Changes in sedimentary
thickness and type of fill depend primarily on proxim-
ity to the enormous sedimentary source resulting from
continental collision and uplift to the north.
(d) Continental collision basins
Continental collision occurs when two plates carrying
continental crust, island arcs or even thick
sedimentary piles converge either by subduction or by
strike-slip motion with a component of convergence.
Since continental margins are always irregular and
because convergence is seldom orthogonal, remnant-
ocean basins (Graham, Dickinson & Ingersoll, 1975)
occur within the collision belt and, because of uplift
and erosion of the mountain belt, enormous quantities
of sediment are available for any adjacent sedimentary
trough. Hence, one result of collision of India with
Asia is to fill the various subduction-related troughs
described above in Burma and to turn part of the
Indian Ocean into quasi-continental crust (Fig. 20). In
addition, there is a major basin parallel to the moun-
tain belt where the present Ganges-Brahmaputra runs.
The sediments which fill this trough are known as
Siwaliks, a continental molasse tectofacies of late
Tertiary age. Similar sediments are found in the Indus
Valley, derived both longitudinally from the main
mountain chain and transversely from the western
Pakistan orogenic belt, primarily a sinistral strike-slip
zone with many complications in detail, formed by
movement of the Indian sub-continent northwards re-
lative to the Iranian plate.
(e) Basins associated with transform/strike-slip fault
Strike-slip faults are those whose primary motion is
horizontal and parallel to the fault trace. They range
in size from plate boundaries, such as the San Andreas
Thru st fault
Strike-sl ip fault
Spreading ridge
Volc ano
100' E

km 4
+ + + + +
Oceanic sediments
Oceanic crust
Permo -Triassic gran ite

km 4

km 4
21 Ma
Fig. 19. Development of Sumatran fore-arc system in the Neogene (from Karig et ai., 1980). Line of section shown on Fig. 18.
Structure below the shelf is hypothetical to illustrate the kind of lithologies present. The earliest formed slope basins are
overlain by sediments of the fore-arc basin.
fault of California, the Alpine fault of New Zealand
and those which border the Indian plate as it impinges
upon the Asian plate (Fig. 20), through intra-plate
faults and those which border micro-plates such as the
Great Glen fault and others in Asia (Fig. 20), to
small-scale fractures with movement of only a few
hundred metres, such as the Sticklepath fault of De-
von. In addition, on oceanic crust there are primary
transform faults occurring as fracture zones associated
with spreading ridges.
However, fault regimes are seldom purely transcur-
rent (Harland, 1971). Movement between blocks is
normally somewhat oblique and so strike-slip motion
may be either divergent (transtensile) or convergent
(transpressive) (Harland, 1971; Wilcox, Harding &
Seely, 1973). Divergent strike-slip increases the likeli-
hood of normal faulting, sedimentary basin formation
and volcanicity. Convergent strike-slip leads to folding
and uplift with thrust and reverse faulting. The nature
of many major strike-slip systems changes from time
to time. For example, both the San Andreas fault
system and the Alpine fault have changed from domi-
nantly transtensile systems in the Miocene to domi-
nantly transpressive ones in the Pliocene (Nardin &
Henyey, 1978; Norris, Carter & Turnbull, 1978).
Individual strike-slip faults are seldom straight.
They tend to curve, to split into several branches
which may come together again and they are frequent-
ly offset, side-stepping one another with successive en
echelon faults taking up the regional movement. These
complex patterns lead to localized zones of extension
and compression (Figs. 21 & 22). Sedimentary basins
c. d.
30 ~
~ N V E R G E N C E
km 2000
Fig. 20. Map of Indian subcontinent and surrounding areas
to show the major strike-slip faults and some of the major
sedimentary basins and accumulations resulting from the
collision of the Indian and Arabian plates with Asia (after
Tapponnier & Molnar, 1975; Graham et al., 1975; Page,
Bennett, Cameron, Bridge, Jeffery, Keats & Thaib, 1979).
form where there is extension. Where there is com-
pression uplift leads to erosion and a source of sedi-
ment for the adjacent basins.
The shape of the basins depends on the pattern of
faulting. Curving faults and anastomosing faults result
in wedge-shaped or elliptical basins (Fig. 22 a & b).
Side-stepping faults produce rectangular or rhomboid-
al pull-apart basins e.g. the Dead Sea, Salton trough of
California (Fig. 22f). The detailed fold and fault pat-
tern of strike-slip basins and the adjoining areas of
deformation can frequently be understood by applying
simple shear models to the zones of strike-slip (Wilcox
Fig. 22. Types of strike-slip fault pattern that produce adja-
cent extensional sedimentary basins and compressional, up-
lifted blocks (from Reading, 1980; after Kingma, 1958;
Quennell, 1958; Crowell, 1974b). (a) divergent and conver-
gent fault patterns, (b) anastomosing fault pattern with both
wedge-shaped highs, wedge-shaped lows and pull-apart
basins, (c) & (d) fault terminations, (e) & (f) side-stepping
et al., 1973) (Fig. 23). If it is known whether the
direction of movement is dextral or sinistral then the
orientation of the folds and faults and the shape of the
basins can be predicted. Alternatively, if the structural
pattern is known, then the direction of movement of
Direction of Extension &
sediment transport. subsidence.
Fig. 21. Illustration of how the curvature of a dextral strike-
slip fault may produce both an extensional basin and a
compressional uplifted area from which sediments are eroded
(after Crowell's 1974a model for the Ridge basin of Califor-
nia). Superimposed on this model is the structural pattern to
be expected from a dextral strike-slip system (ef. Fig. 23)
(after Wilcox et al., 1973; modified by Mitchell & Reading,
1978). Sediment transport is to the right.
Fig. 23. Structural pattern resulting from simple shear (after
Harding, 1974). A NW-SE dextral shear couple produces
N-S trending normal faults and E-W trending fold axis,
reverse faults and thrusts.
the strike-slip zone is predictable. However, because
of progressive rotation of earlier formed structures as
movement continues and because so many major
strike-slip zones reflect fundamental faults, which may
have moved in different ways in the past, it is impor-
tant to date the structures and even then in older
zones it may not be possible to match orientation of
structures to fault motion, because of the overprinting
of earlier structures by later ones.
A point that cannot be stressed too strongly is that
while the overall movement across a fault is horizon-
tal, at anyone place the main movement may be
dip-slip. This vertical movement may be substantial
and it is this that produces the main sedimentary
effects of a strike-slip system. In older tectonic regim-
es, where evidence for lateral motion is so difficult to
obtain, vertical movements may be the only proveable
fault motion.
Sedimentologically the most important features of
these basins are the extreme lateral facies changes, the
very great thicknesses of rapidly deposited sediment,
abundant sediment supply from multiple sources and
the evidence nearby for unconformities and contem-
poraneous deformation, sometimes in the form of
extensive thrusting, even along the faulted basin mar-
Normal acoustic echo sounders are quite inadequate
to map deep rugged topographies on ocean floors.
Hence, it is only recently that the use of submersibles,
side-scan sonar and deeply towed instruments has
enabled the detailed morphology of oceanic ridges to
be discerned. These studies (Arcyana, 1975; Lonsdale,
1978; Searle, 1979) have shown that, in addition to
basins running parallel to the ridge crest, there is a
complex series of basins controlled by the structural
pattern (Figs. 24 & 25). Transform valleys and ridges
run between and perpendicular to the main spreading
centres and parallel the direction of plate separation
which is essentially that of a strike-slip fault. Major
escarpments occur with a relief of more than 1 km, an
average inclination of 25-30 and including stepped
cliffs with gradients up to 60 (Lonsdale, 1978). At the
toes of these cliffs are volcaniclastic talus breccias (cf.
Francheteau, Choukroune, Hekinian, Le Pichon &
Needham, 1976). In addition minor horsts and graben
are found within the transform valleys; these trend
obliquely to both the main ridge and the fracture zone
in the expected direction for normal faults in a sinistral
strike-slip zone (Lonsdale, 1978; cf. Searle, 1979).
The Gulf of California lies between the San Andreas
fault and the East Pacific Rise in a transtensional
setting resulting from dextral divergent transform mo-
tion which began about 4 my ago. The gulf is 1,300 km
long and 100--250 km wide with relatively small basins
deepening from 600 m in the north to 3,000 m further
south, separated by fault-controlled sills and islands
(for summary see Kelts, 1981). Some of these basins
are pull-aparts with high heat-flow, alkaline volcanics
and hydrothermal mineralization; they are spreading
centres. Other basins are perched along the slopes.
The dominant sediments are hemipelagic diato-
maceous muds. Sedimentation rates range from 40--
120 cm/1,000 years. These rates are extraordinary con-
sidering the surrounding land areas are arid and there
is very little sand.
In southern California, the Palaeogene subduction
regime changed to strike-slip during the Miocene (e.g.
Crouch, 1981) as the San Andreas fault system de-
veloped, taking up northward movement of the Pacific
plate relative to the American plate. The San Andreas
fault is not a single feature: it is only the most impor-
tant of a number of dextral strike-slip faults in a belt
which is up to 500 km wide and extends offshore to
the Californian Continental Borderland (Fig. 26),
where sedimentary basins, some over 2 km deep and
up to 20 x 50 km in area, have developed during the
late Cainozoic. They are separated from each other by
sills or islands formed of uplifted basement and older
sediments. Sedimentation at the present day is by
turbidity currents, slides, slumps and debris flows and
by near-continuous raining of fine-grained terrigenous
and pelagic material (Fig. 27). Thicknesses of late
Cainozoic sediments range from 8 km in basins adja-
cent to the land, such as the petroleum producing Los
Angeles basin, to less than 2 km in the relatively
starved basins away from the continent (Fig. 26).
Sedimentation rates vary between 5 and 40 cm/1,000
years. Although sediments in the basin centres are
generally more or less horizontal, adjacent to the
faulted margins they may be very deformed with com-
plex stratigraphical and structural relationships (Fig.
Another small marine basin associated with strike-
slip is the Yallahs basin off Kingston, Jamaica (Burke,
1967). Jamaica lies within a 200 km wide plate bound-
ary zone which separates the North American and
Caribbean plates (Burke, Grippi & Senger, 1980).
Movement between the plates is taken up by E-W
sinistral strike-slip faults. Anticlines and thrusts, such
as those forming the Long Mountain anticline and
thrusts in the Point Royal Mountains are aligned
NW-SE or NNW-SSE, and normal faults, such as
those which bound the Yallahs basin as the western
and eastern scarps, trend NNE-SSW compatible with
the E-W sinistral fault trends (Burke et al., 1980). The
basin is about 20 x 30 km in size with a 1,300 m deep
portion, 100 km
in area (Fig. 29). A range of
sedimentary facies is forming, with subaerial braided
alluvial fans, submarine fan-deltas (Westcott &
Ethridge, 1980) and distal turbidites in the deep basin.
These fan deltas form clastic wedges of conglomeratic
sandstones, which pass without a break from subae-
rial alluvial fan deposits, through a very narrow and
barely perceptible shelf, to deep water submarine fan
and slope deposits. On the narrow shelf sandy spits
and bars pass laterally into carbonate reefs from which
-3250- Bathymetry in metres
3500 I
.-- ---3250

1<1 Shoaier than 3000m


Fig. 24. Sedimentary basins and ridges at the intersection of the N-S trending East Pacific Rise crest and the E-W trending
Quebrada transform fault zone, which passes eastwards into the currently active part of a major fracture zone (from Lonsdale,
1978). Square shows area of Fig. 25.
mass-flow deposits fall off fault scarps into the basin
(Fig. 29).
The classic on-land strike-slip basin is the Dead Sea
(Quennell, 1958; Freund, 1965; Garfunkel, 1978),
which has formed as the Palestinian plate moved
sinistrally with respect to the Arabian plate and as the
Dead Sea fault side steps (Fig. 30). Although fault
curvature to the north, in the Lebanon, produces
uplift, run off of detrital sediment from the mountains
is limited in this arid basin and sedimentation is
dominated by evaporites and marginal alluvial fans.
In contrast, the Pliocene Ridge Basin of California
developed in a relatively humid climate and was filled
mainly from one end by turbidites and fluvial sedi-
ments (Fig. 31). Marginal conglomerates, in particular
the Violin Breccia, a unit several km thick but which
extends laterally for no more than 1 km into the basin,
pass into fine-grained marine or lacustrine sediments
(Crowell, 1975; Link & Osborne, 1978). The apparent
thickness of sediments as measured from SE to NW, in
the direction of dip is about 12 km. However, because
the locus of sedimentation has moved progressively
NW as the basin opened, the vertical depth to the
basin floor at anyone place may be no more than
4 km. The sedimentation rate of the Ridge Basin is
about 100 cm/1,OOO years.
... , , ..
.. .. .. '" .
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
.. .. .. .. .. .. .,
Lava outcrop
Fault Breccia
Sediment veneer
Sediment pond
.. .. .. .. .. ..
.. .. .. .. ..
... , .
.. .. .. ..
...... vvvvvvvvvvvvv.. .. ..
-::- -::- -:.V \ ": V.: V.: . . WEST FLANK OF EAST
rTT1 Fault scarp
) 3750
_ 5 _ Isopachs in metres
.. .. .. .. , , :::::::::.::::::::',...-.::.. ::--:: .. ::--:: .. . .. a km
....... '.," , ," , .. I I
2::;;;;;i;;;;;iljjljjj1ii::.. ,
..;:.:::-::.. ..:.:.. :.:.:: :.:.: ::.:.:: :.:.:: :.:.:::.:.'.' .. ::.... ... :' .... ':.:.:: .. ':-:.::.:'::::_ :.: '.:'.:.' :: .. ... ... .. .. .. !.: .. :'.,; .
., eM''! "" .. :: .. :: .. : ..
::::::::: .... ::::::::::-:::::::::: ...
Fig. 25. Quebrada transform fault zone showing the transform valley and fault scarps, and NE-SW trending extensional
basins resulting from the E-W sinistral strike-slip movement of the fault zone (from Lonsdale, 1978),
No attempt will be made to give an account of all
sedimentary basins in the British Isles. Papers read at
the recent William Smith meeting of the London
Geological Society (Harris, 1982) show only too well
how difficult and controversial are interpretations of
the evolution of the British Isles. Sedimentation is the
result of several factors of which the local tectonic
regime may be important, but it is not the only factor.
Eustatic sea-level changes are becoming increasingly
well-documented (Vail & Todd, 1981). During periods
of lower sea-level, gradients increase, rivers debouch
at continental margins and there is an increase in
detrital material to basins. When sea-level is high,
clastic sediment supply is diminished and biochemical
sediment widespread.
In addition, sedimentary basins are not usually the
product of one simple tectonic regime. Even in the
relatively well known present day basins where an
origin has been postulated in terms of plate tectonics
there is normally a combination of factors at work. For
example, the Andaman Sea can be looked upon either
a 600
't- Anticline
Fault, bar on downthrown side
(s2> Cainozoic basins
80 Maximum thickness of strata in km.
a km
1 I
~ ~ ,
~ "
~ " ' ~
Fig. 26. Map of Continental Borderland and onland southern California. The NW trending faults are dextral faults synthetic
to the main San Andreas fault. The Santa Monica fault is sinistral. Basins are largely fault controlled. Notice the trend of
anticlines is mainly WNW, reflecting the dextral movement along the fault zone. Thickness of basin sediment is greatest
adjacent to the coast (after Blake et al., 1978; Howell et al., 1980).
as an extending back-arc basin resulting from its posi-
tion behind a subduction-related island arc or as a
series of deep basins lying along the line of a major
strike-slip plate boundary, their orientation and shape
the result of strike-slip motion. The configuration of
the Andaman Sea is the result of subduction, of
extension and of lateral motion. The Gulf of Califor-
nia is another transtensional basin, resulting from a
combination of strike-slip motion and extension. Thus
it is seldom possible to categorize a basin as one
simple type.
There is then the question of scale. Both the Anda-
man Sea and the Gulf of California are large basins,
over 1,000 km in length. They have a general
sedimentary pattern and facies resulting from their
tectonics, oceanic chemistry and currents, and the
climate of the surrounding land areas. Within them,
though, there are many smaller basins which, because
of their position within the major basin, have many
common features. Yet these basins may have been
separated by positive tectonic features and the age of
their initiation, sedimentation and termination may
not have been the same. They may have developed at
rather different times and have had different structural
positions. Consequently the larger scale basins have to
be distinguished from the smaller ones into which they
are divided. The same problem arises with the Califor-
nian Borderlands where a number of small 'sub-basins'
occurs within the whole Borderland region. Similar
sedimentary facies fill each of these sub-basins and the
differences in ages of these basins may be too small to
be perceived with biostratigraphy. Consequently,
when reconstructing an ancient 'geosyncline', it is all
too easy to see just one, very large basin and not to
realize that it may be composed of a complex of
smaller basins of slightly different ages and separated
from each other by uplifted blocks.
A few examples of sedimentary basins will now be
o km
Fig. 27. Sedimentary pattern in three Californian basins (ct. Fig. 26) (after Gorsline, 1978). Active submarine canyons showed
by arrows; inactive canyons shown by dashed lines.
discussed which illustrate how models developed in
the preceding sections can be used to clarify our
understanding of basin sedimentation. A recent sum-
mary of sedimentary basins in northwest Europe has
been given by Ziegler (1981). The late Precambrian
opening of the Iapetus ocean was followed by its
closure in Lower Palaeozoic times, with subduction-
Fig. 28. Stratigraphical and sedimentological model for an
off-shore strike-slip basin in the southern Californian Border-
land (after Howell et al., 1980). Marginal wedges of coarse-
grained inner submarine fan and slope mass-flow deposits
pass basinward into sandstones deposited in submarine fans.
Whether the main upper fill is sandstone or hemipelagic
mudstone depends on availability of sediment sources. Notice
complex structural and stratigraphical relationships on
faulted margin, due to synchronous faulting and sedimenta-
related processes on either side. The Devonian sutur-
ing of the Laurentian-Greenland and Fennoscandian
continental plates was dominated by strike-slip and
transpressional tectonics. In Carboniferous times ex-
tensional tectonics over most of Britain passed into
compressional or strike-slip tectonics in the south. The
tectonically quiescent Permian saw the beginning of
the extensional rifting of the Triassic which continued
in the North Sea throughout Mesozoic and Tertiary
The Torridonian of NW Scotland is composed of
lacustrine and fluvial clastic sediments which were
probably deposited in extensional graben. These were
rather like those which formed around the Atlantic in
Mesozoic times and represent an early pre-opening
stage of oceanic rifting. The Torridonian is followed
by the dominantly shallow marine and turbiditic clas-
tics of the Dalradian Supergroup which includes some
carbonates and volcanics. The apparent stratigraphical
thickness deposited over 300 my from late Precam-
brian to early Ordovician was 25 km (Harris, Baldwin,
Bradbury, Johnson & Smith, 1978) giving a rate of
sedimentation of 8 cm/1,000 years. This is a compara-
tively rapid overall rate for such Atlantic-type margins
(cf. p 328) but sedimentation was in a number of
fault-bounded basins (e.g. Anderton, 1979) and the
rate was almost certainly much more rapid locally over
shorter periods of time. There were several large-scale
basin-deepening and -shallowing sequences within the
Dalradian region with active faulting governing the
30km 20 10

4 sandstone 'f">.
Fig. 29. Sketch map of the Yallahs strike-slip basin off
Kingston, Jamaica lookin g north (after Bur ke, 1967).
t> ... 1>...
NWDi'ection 01sedimenl 110: SE
ofstratigraphica' \'lunging
km 5
, !, ,
Marine sediments
D Sandstone Conglomerate
Ia22J Mudstone Breccia
Fig. 31. Map, tr ansverse cross-section and longitudinal cross-
section through Pliocene Ridge Basin of California to show
structural and sedimentary patt erns (for locat ion see Fig. 26)
(after Crowell, 1975; Link & Osborne, 1978; Reading, 1980).
The active fault during sedimentation was the San Gabriel
fault ; the San Andreas fault is later.
subsidence of indi vidual basins. Harris et al., ( 1978)
compared the tectonic framework to that of a mar gin-
al, fault-controlled basin similar to the North Sea in
Mesozoic and Tertiary times. As the Dalr adi an de-
veloped, in Cambrian times , it can be compared with
Atl anti c-type continental shelves in the ea rly stages of
oceanic rifting.
Exa mples of ocean closure are well seen on either
side of the Iapetus Ocean in Ordovician and Silurian
times. The geology of the Southern Uplands is best
explained by comparison with modern accretionary
prisms (Fig. 32) . A series of sequences which , where
complete, pass from basalt through chert and carbo-
naceou s shales to turbidites, young towards the NW.
The sequences are separated from each other by re-
verse strike-faults. An important feature is that each
sequence is progressively younger toward s the SE, in
the opposi te direction to that in which the slices
themselves young (Mitchell & McKerr ow, 1975; Leg-
gett, McKe rrow & Eales, 1979) (cf Figs. 14 & 19).
During Lower Palaeozoic times there is as yet little
direct proof that strike-slip was an important fact or in
basin development , though the re see ms littl e doubt
that the two plates were colliding obliquely (Phillips,
Stillman & Murphy, 1976) , and basins like the South
Mayo Tr ough (Dewey, 1963; Ryan & Archer, 1977)
have many similarities to pull -apart basins. However ,
by Devonian times the alluvial basins within the Mid-
land Valley of Scotland cert ainly be expl ained as
strike-slip basins result ing from sinistral motion on the
Highl and Boundary Fault and the South ern Upl and
Faul t. (Bluck, 1978, 1980). Large volumes of alluvial
fan conglomer at es and sandstones pour ed off the NE-
SW tr end ing sinistral faults into two major basins, the
Fig. 30. Block diagram to show origin of the Dead Sea by
sinistral strike-slip movement and side-stepping of the fault
(after Quennell, 1958).
o km 50
which basi n development in the Ordovician and Silu-
rian of Wales can be understood in terms of strike-slip
mot ion on the fundamental faults, or whether the
faults are just normal faults res ulting from the exten-
sion of a back- arc basin.
In Upper Carboniferous times, over most of Britain
extensional basins formed (Leeder, 1976) while str ike-
slip basi ns may have predominated over much of
western Euro pe (e.g. Heward & Reading, 1980). SW
England is an enigma since the condensed sandstone-
deficient Upper Devoni an-Lower Car bonifero us sequ-
ences of cherts, shales and limestones formed on
blocks and in basi ns, and by indicatin g extensional
tectonics contras t with the postulated lat e Devonian-
ea rly Carbonifero us tectonic phase of southern Corn-
wall (Sanderson & Dearman, 1973). One explanatio n
of this juxtaposition of extensional and comp ressional
tectonics is that the region was affected by strike-slip
movements which caused both deformation and the
formation of exte nsional sedimentary basins (Bad ha m,
1976) .
Th e relat ionship of tectonics to sedi mentation in
and aro und Britain in Mesozoic and Terti ary times is
bette r understood from the Nort h Sea (Fig. 35) than it
is from onland Britain because of the seismic and
drilling dat a avai lable from the oil industry . The tecto-
nic histor y of the North Sea falls into two phases. The
first phase was one of taphrogenic rift movements
which started in the Permo-Triassic and ended in the
Lower Cretaceous (Fig. 36) . The second phase was
one of more gradual subsidence which has lasted till
the present day thoug h, in some places, such as the
Sole Pit gas field area of the southern North Sea,
Fig. 33. Location of Scottish Old Red Sandstone Basins
(shown stippled and of Southern Uplands accretionary prism
(after Bluck, 1978). Both the Lanark Basin and the Strath-
more Basin contain sub-basins. Continuous arrows indicate
main sediment dispersal directions in Lower ORS times.
Dashed arrow indicates main sediment dispersal in Upper
ORS times.
Sit e of
Solway Fir t h
Sea level
.. .. ...
Fig. 32. The Southern Upland accretionary prism in Wen-
lock times (after Leggett, McKerrow & Eales, 1979 (for
location see Fig. 33). The oldest sequence is to the NW, and
the oldest three successions contain basalt and chert at the
base with shales and turbidites above. The central sequences
contain shales, occasional chert and turbidites. The youngest,
to the SE, contains only turbidites the present level of
erosion is arcuate to allow for probable post-Silurian over-
steepening of the prism. Scale is approximate. Noticethat the
sediments themselves young to the NW and, if the detailed
stratigraphical palaeontology were unknown, a succession
several tens of kmthick might be estimated as the deposition-
al thickness of sediments.
Strathmore and Lanark basins of the Lower Old Red
Sandstone (Fig. 33). There was also longitudinal fill,
partly derived from nor mal faults within the basin
(Fig. 34) .
On the south side of the closing Iapetu s Ocean, the
evidence for subduction is rather differ ent. An accre-
tionar y prism is not known. Instead , the calc-alkaline
volcanics of the English Lake Distri ct and Balbriggan
in Irel and ar e taken to rep rese nt an Ordovician island
arc pas sing SE into the more rhyolitic volcanics of
North Wales. Behind this main volcanic arc is the
Welsh basin, geographically a back-arc basin, with
some volcani c activity, mainly basalti c. In the Ordovi-
cian and Silurian of the Welsh basin the re is a very
compl ex patt ern of turbidites shallow marine sedi-
ments and volcanics, deposited in smaller basi ns prob -
ably gove rne d by faults (James & James, 1969). These
faults had considerable vertical move me nt during sedi-
ment at ion and there is some evi dence that they also
had a lat er al component. Th e anastomosi ng fault pat -
tern of faults shown by James & Ja mes (1969) trending
NE-SW with subsidiary E-W and ENE-WSW faults,
together with the N-S and NNE-SSW tr end ing anti-
clines (Coward & Siddans, 1979) suggests some dex-
tral movement in Lower Palaeozoic times which is the
same dir ection as that postulated by Phillips et al.
(1976) . It would be interest ing to know the degree to
" /
, /
Site of Midland : :
Valley inl ier s : :
Sit e of Sout hern
NW UPlOdFault
342 H . G . READING
Source 3.
.i->: """d
'. ' . _- - _......... .
... >. ', ' .pebbly i " '
-;' " ' ",': sandstone ..
-: : .. : ", ", : ... .,,'
" Basin 3. . , '. ",: .'
debris flows &': .: " ':-. fz
, , proximal braided stream
e " deposits '" ' " ,', . .
o Q 0 'd ' 0 '0 . '. . ' . . ' . ' . .
o 6' b '
. t :. . . . ' ."
not to scale
Fig . 34, Model for Upper Old Red Sand stone strike-slip basins (after Bluck , 1980), The Highland Boundary Fault (F) is
considered to be a sinistral strike-slip fault which extended the basement on the SE side . This extension results in Basins 1, 2,
3 developing progressively to the SW as fault s [), 12, f, are down- fault ed . Pet rographi c differences of the three phases of fill
suggest ther e were temporary sources of sediment from within the Midland Valley. There is also a substan tial input of sediment
from across the master fault to the NW.
inversion (r.e. uplift of an earlier basin) took place
during the Cretaceous (Glennie & Boegner , 1981).
During the Jurrassic, intra-crat onic deformation of
the northern North Sea led to crustal arching of a
central dome and radi ating graben extending from it
(Fig, 37). Within the graben, delt aic sands form the
major reservoirs of the Brent group of oilfields east of
the Shetl ands. In detail the sedimentary facies are very
complex (Budding & Inglin , 1981) with barrier sands,
lagoons and tidal deltas super imposed on the simpler
del taic model shown in Fig. 38.
By Upper Jurassic times , conditions had changed
somewhat and, in place of the relati vely large Middle
Jurassic deltas which filled the graben, smaller and
more localized fan-deltas, such as those that form the
Brae and Piper fields, were der ived from active fault


-a <SIt!).

0 100

3 2
0 3 4
r- 8

Fig. 35. Structural units in the Nort h Sea (afte r Day, Cooper, Andersen , Burgers, Ronnevik & Schoneich, 1981). Major oil
and gas fields B. = Brent ; Br. = Br ae ; E. = Ekofisk; Fa . = Fort ies; Fr. = Frigg; Ma. = Magnus; Mo. = Montrose ; P. =
Piper; Fine stipple = major plat forms and highs; Coarse stipple = smaller highs and horsts.
344 H . G . READI NG
Horda Platform
" .


... ......... . .
, .. - - -

... -EOCENE-PLIOCENE - . .__... __...__... .. _."
v v .. __---.. .- ...--- .. ---... ---... --- ... ... . .. --'
Fig. 36. Schematic cross-sect ion through the northern Viking Grabe n a probable ' failed rift'. Compare the lower , faulted
graben with Fig. 6. of the Red Sea (from Je nkins & Twombley. 1981) .
EJ] Continental clastics
Shallow marine
fVVvl V I .
Fig. 37. Simplified palaeogeograph y of northern Brit ain and
the North Sea in Middle Jurassic times (af ter Eynon , 1981) .
The volcanics occur at the junction of the thr ee radiating
basins, the Moray Firth Basin (MFB) , Viking Graben (VK)
and Central Graben (CG) and sedi ments are derived both
longitudinally from the upd omed trilete junction and from
lateral, possibly faulted-bounded , margins . Noti ce the Minch
Basin (MB), where sediments are exposed in the Inner
Hebrides, and the Sole Pit Basin (SPB) , where they extend
on to land in east Yorks hire .
Fig. 38. Detailed Middle Jurassic (Lower Bathonian)
palaeogeography (from Eynon, 1981) . Sediment flow is-both
along the Viking Graben from the south and from the East
Shetland Platform to the west. Sediments are also presumed
to come from Scandinavia to the east. Tidal influenc e is
probabl y importa nt in the mar ine arm to the west.
scarps (e.g. the Helmsdale fault of NE Scotland).
Opinions differ as to whether the conglomeratic sand-
stone facies formed as submarine fans in relatively
deep water or as alluvial fans (Harms, Tackenberg,
Pickles & Pollock, 1981). They were probably a mix-
ture of the two, with some conglomeratic sandstone
bodies forming under partly subaerial and partly sub-
marine conditions, as with the fan-deltas of the Yal-
lahs basin (Fig. 29). Understanding the role of tecto-
nics in sedimentation at and near the Upper Jurassic-
Lower Cretaceous boundary is complicated by the
world-wide drop in sea-level in the Berriasian (early
Cretaceous) (Vail & Todd, 1981), which led to emerg-
ence of the highs and an increase in detrital sedimenta-
A world-wide rise of sea-level during the Cretaceous
led to a decrease in clastic sedimentation. In the
Palaeocene, clastic sedimentation returned, primarily
Fig. 39. Palaeogeographic map of the Palaeocene Montrose
Group (after Rochow, 1981). Thick submarine fan sand-
stones pour into the Viking and Central Grabens and the
Moray Firth Basin from the west. Thicknesses of sandstones
are up to 6--800 m in the Moray Firth sub-basins either side
of the Halibut Horst and up to 5-600 m in the Viking
as submarine fans in rather broader troughs, but still
to some extent fault controlled (Fig. 39). It was during
the Palaeocene and Eocene that the principal reser-
voirs were formed in the Central Graben, such as
those of the Forties (Carman & Young, 1981) and
Montrose fields, and also in the Viking Graben, espe-
cially the Frigg Field (Heritier, Lossel & Wathne,
1979) whose sediments were derived from the west.
Sedimentation at this time was decidedly asymmetric-
al, as it was in the Upper Jurassic, in contrast to the
Middle Jurassic when derivation was from both sides
of the graben.
Differential vertical movements are an important pre-
requisite for sedimentation and in the preceeding sec-
tions many figures have been quoted of rate of subsidence
of a basin, rate of sedimentation and rate of uplift.
Although these figures show significant differences
between some types of basins, the figures have to be
approached with caution.
One factor is that sediments become compacted
and, therefore, a sedimentation rate measured on
surface sediments with a high porosity and water
content may be less than half when measured 2-3 km
below the surface. Therefore, sedimentation rates me-
asured on recent sediments appear to be much higher
than those measured on older sediments. Measure-
ments of compaction are difficult (see, for example,
Perrier & Quibler, 1974), but, in general, shales com-
pact more than sandstones and, after the first few
hundred metres where the thickness is quickly reduced
to half, tend to compact only slowly at greater depths.
Sandstones generally compact less than shales, with
quartzose sandstones perhaps decreasing by only 10-
15%, but sandstones with a high proportion of lithic
clasts, although retaining their porosity in the first few
hundred metres may compact to 60% of the original
and at depths greater than 1,000 m may compact faster
than shale.
Thus, as a very rough estimate, sediments buried
below 2,000 m are reduced to about half their original
thickness, mostly in the first 100-200 m of burial. In
ancient rocks there is not only the problem of allowing
for deformation effects but of determining what mea-
sured stratigraphical interval indicates a 'true' thick-
ness, in the sense that there was once such a vertical
thickness of sediment above 'basement' at anyone
place. It is all too easy to measure a series of stratig-
raphically determined sections from place to place
over a wide area and to superimpose them to give a
substantial cumulative sedimentary thickness. The
wider the area one takes for the measurement of
sections the greater will be the total apparent thick-
ness, because it is more likely that they were deposited
in separate basins. For example, if one were to add the
thickness measured in a number of Californi an basins
which were filled at slightl y different times, one would
grossly over-estimate the tot al thickness. Thi s is very
easy to do in a region of ancient rocks where outcrops of
a particular system are widely separated. It is important,
therefore, when calculating ancient sedimentary thick-
nesses, to distinguish between the total ' stratigraph-
ical' thickness over the whole region and the sedi-
mentary thickness of any single basin.
In addition. even with in one basin, a mea sured
section does not necessarily indicate the true depth of
the basin, as can be seen from the Ridge Basin (Fig .
31). Many structurally controlled basins widen during
sedimentation and the locu s of sedimentation changes.
Stratigraphical sections in onlapping delt as, such as
the Niger tc]. Fig. 8), also may give a misleading figure
for basin depth.
Nevertheless, (Schwab, 1976; Miall, 1978) intracra-
tonic basins show accumulation rates of about 2 em/
1,000 years comp ared to up to 10 cm/l,OOOyears for
passive continental margins and about 100 cm/l ,OOO
years for subduction-related and strike-slip basins. In
areas of high sedimentation, such as delt as, sedimenta-
tion rate s may be even greater but , since sediment a-
tion is usuall y into an existing trough, the rates are not
those of basin subsidence. These accumul ation rates
compare with vertical movements which may be as
much as 800 cm/l ,OOO years in California (Schumm,
1977) and 700---1,000 cm/l ,OOO years for the late Pleis-
tocene to Recent movement of the Alpine fault of
New Zealand (Adams, 1981). It is important to note
that, while these rates occur in extremely active tecto-
nic regions across fault lines , post-glacial isostatic re-
bound produces uplifts of 500 cmll ,OOO year s for the
Great Lakes region and up to 1,000 emil ,000 years for
Scandinavi a in regions which are consid ered cratonic
(Miall , 1978). The se rates compare with glacioeustatic
fluctuations of sea-level of up to 1,000 emil ,000 years
(Pitman, 1978) and Me sozoic eustatic fluctuations of
4-10 cmll ,OOO years (Hardenbol, Vail & Ferrer,
In ancient successions, sedimentation rates usually
appear to be much less than their modern counterparts
(Miall , 1978). This discrepancy may partly be due to
measurements made on compacted sediments being
compared with those made on uncompacted sedi-
ments. However , it is probabl y mainl y due to the
difficulties of dating anci ent sediments with precision
and thinking that sedimentation lasted longer than it
did , also including unrecognised phases of non-
deposition and erosion and migration of basin de-
In this paper emphasis has been on sediment at ion in
tectonically active areas. Nothing has been mentioned
about the contrasti ng widespread cratonic sedimenta-
tion , as seen in the interior of North America in the
Proterozoic and in Cambro-Ordovician times, where
thin, but very extensive sheets of superficially monoto-
nous orthoquartzites and carbonates, less than
1,500 m thick, were deposited on a shallow shelf which
cover ed thous ands of square km (Dott & Byers, 1981).
There is no easy explanation as to how shallow
marin e, or even fluvial processes could oper at e over
such extensive shelf areas. Cratonic areas were not
onl y stable during sedimentati on; most of them have
remained undi sturbed ever since and the sediments
are still flat-lying. In the are as described in this paper,
tectonic movement was cont inuous with sedimenta-
tion , slow in the case of some large basins , but ver y
fast in strike-slip zones.
The old geosynclinal terminology once served a
useful purpose when we knew little about the present.
It might now be abandoned in favour of a description
of sedimentary basins , the sub-basins and of the tecto-
nic regime in which they developed. It should onl y be
retained to simplify areas about which we kno w very
little . However , to jump straight into a plate tectonic
terminology is dangerous, since the categories today
are not clear cut and interpret ations of ancient basins
are bound to be subjective and no more than working
Thick ' geosynclina l' success ions are formed in man y
ways. They may develop (1) very slowly on continental
crust with migrat ory facies belts extending for hun-
dreds of km; (2) rather faster, but with equally exten-
sive facies belts , in oceans as large submarine fans
extending for thousands of km, large build-ups of
sediment from ocean bottom currents or in large
troughs on passive continental margins, where the
facies belts run parallel to the margin; (3) in large
deltas extending perpendicular to the continental mar-
gin, where facies belts on a gross scale are very
extensive but, in detail , very vari able; (4) in extension-
al rifts, forming linear troughs some (e.g. aulacogens)
perpendicular to continental margins, oth ers sub-
par allel to them, such as the graben associated with
the opening of oceans. Sedimentary facies are exten-
sive, parallel to the fault lines , but very variable
perpendicular to them ; compressional deformation
during sedimentation is absent; (5) very rapidly indeed
in small, strike-slip or oceanic transform basins, zones
of which may be very extensive, but which indi vidually
are quite small. Facies belts are limited laterally,
making lithofacies mapping a difficult task. Facies pass
laterally into oth er , coeval , facies. The prox imit y of
rising areas to sinking ones makes correlation by ' fold
phases ' or by the linking of unconformities extremely
dangerous. In addition, the fact that sedimentation is
extremely rapid and that thousand s of metres of sedi-
ment may be deposited in a very short space of time ,
well within the finest of stra tigraphical sub-zones,
makes it impossible to separate chronologically forma-
tions which may have been deposited at different
times; (6) as tectonically accreted successions, division
of which is only possible with good stratigraphical
palaeont ology or of the shear zones
which separate the individual slices.
The figures were drawn by Gillian Collins to whom the
author is extremely grateful for her care and patien ce.
Thanks are also extended to Carol Pudsey for reading
and commenting on an earl y dr aft and to Diana Rel-
ton for typing the manuscript.
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