Structural Geology

Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts

Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts
Introduction Reverse faults Reverse faults are faults where the hanging wall moves up relative to the footwall. They cause a shortening of the crust in the horizontal direction. The maximum compressive stress is therefore close to horizontal. Since Mohr-Coulomb failure occurs at an angle <45° to the maximum compressive stress, reverse faults are expected to be dipping <45° near the surface. Reverse faults are often associated with detachment levels, which have a much shallower inclination. Such reverse faults with a low dip angle are thrusts (dip angle <<45°). Just like normal faults they may have a listric shape with a steeper part at the surface, which bends into a shallow dip at depth. The movement along a thrust and the formation of multiple splays or imbricates can form complex systems, usually involving folding as well. These are fold-and-thrust belts. This chapter mostly deals with such systems.
Fig. 5.1. Tectonic setting with a normal (right) and a backthrusting (left) fold-and-thrust belt. The back-thrusting typically occurs behind an arc or micro-continental sliver.


Fold-and-thrust belts

Geodynamical settings of fold-and-thrust belts Major fold-and-thrust belts are associated with subduction (Fig. 5.1). Normally the thrusting is in the opposite direction as subduction, but back-thrusting can also occur, where thrusting is in the same direction as subduction (compare with synthetic and antithetic normal faults in previous chapter). Some examples of large fold-and-thrust belts are: • Andes: subduction beneath a continent • Taiwan: subduction beneath an arc • Himalayans: underthrusting of continent (India) under a continent (Asia) • Rocky Mountains: back thrusting away from the subduction


Fig. 5.2. (a) Fenster, klippe, salient and re-entrant in map view and in a vertical cross section. (b) A famous klippe at Crow's nest Pass in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Crow's Nest Mountain is a remnant of a eastwards translated thrust sheet.

Nappe or thrust sheet Allochtonous Autochtonous

A large body of rock that is translated by a flat-lying thrust is a nappe or thrust sheet. Nappes can be transported over many tens of kilometres. The Alps are essentially composed of a stack of such nappes. Material that is transported away from its origin is called allochtonous. The counterpart is autochtonous (still in its original place). Page 36

including thickening of the units. (b) Displacement along the detachment without any accommodation would lead to an impossible overlap of the moving and non-moving block. an anticline may form above the detachment tip. Main types of thrust-related structures Three types of structures are common in fold-and-thrust belts: • Detachment folds and pop-ups: These structures form to accommodate the space problems that arise at the tip of a blind detachment. making the fold ever taller and narrower. • Fault-bend folds: These structures form when a fault is not straight. 5.2a): • A salient is a part of the thrust that is ahead of the main thrust front. these units usually accommodate the space problem by inhomogeneous deformation. but become longer with progressive fault movement.Structural Geology Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts Salient & re-entrant Klippe Fenster Because thrust are usually shallow dipping. The detachment folds that form when an incompetent layer is missing and all layers can only fold by rotation of limbs are called pop-up structures. 5. (2) Migration of the kink band. Since detachments usually form in incompetent units.4): (1) Rotation of the limbs. (a) Blind detachment. This area depends on stratigraphic level relative to the detachment. their outcrop pattern may be complicated. Detachment folds and pop-ups If there is fault movement along a blind detachment. The uplifted excess area must be equal to the overlap area in (b).3). The kink in the layers remains in the same point within the folding layers. Some terms you need to know (Fig. When they have flat crests they are called box-folds. The fold limbs maintain a constant angle. since the surface of the Earth is a free surface. • A fenster is an isolated area of footwall outcrop. while maintaining their original thickness. i. An anticlinal fold can form if material escapes upwards. (d) Box folds are pop-up structures with a flat crest. (3) In reality. Page 37 .2b). Competent layers tend to only rotate in kink bands. 5. or by the formation of folds. (c) Instead. space problems at the tip necessitate the formation of accommodation structures (Fig. one would often have a combination of these two end-member mechanisms. The accommodation can be by propagation of the detachment fault. • Fault-propagation folds: These structures form to accommodate the space problems at the tip of an upwards-propagating thrust or imbricate. A re-entrant is the opposite • A klippe is a part of the thrust and overlying rocks that is completely isolated. 5.e.3. There are two end-member mechanisms for the formation of detachment folds (Fig. surrounded by its footwall (Fig. Detachment folds & pop-ups Fault-propagation folds Fault-bend folds Kink bands Pop-up structure Box folds Fig. This is usually possible. 5.

5. From Shaw. • The fold becomes smaller towards the tip of the detachment (axial planes converge). with the steep limb facing the thrusting direction. • Competent layers usually maintain their original thickness. Main mechanisms of the formation of detachment folds.5. Layers in the core of the fold are more strongly deformed. An AAPG Seismic Atlas. This layer is thickened in the core of the fold. • Detachment folds are usually upright and symmetric to moderately asymmetric. Connors & Suppe (2005) Seismic interpretation of contractional fault-related faults. Fig. Page 38 . Canadian Rocky Mountains.Structural Geology Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts Fig.4. because the excess area (A) enclosed by the fold is equal to the stratigraphic level above the detachment (H) and the offset (F). The fold axial planes converge to the lower left. Example of a detachment fold in a mountain face at Opal Mountain. 5. • The frontal axial plane or kink band ends at the tip of the detachment. where the tip of the detachment is inferred. with A = H ! F. General characteristics of detachment folds • There is usually an incompetent layer at the detachment. Studies in Geology 53.

• Folds get tighter downwards. (b) After some slip along the fault. The youngest imbricate is at the front and the older imbricates get progressively steepened.Structural Geology Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts Fault-propagation folds Faults can propagate. Slip is accommodated in front of the tip by upward escape of material. Characteristic fault-propagation folds form. folding must accommodate the absence of fault movement in front of the tip. Usually splays form sequentially at the tip of a detachment. the youngest imbricate is at the rear.7a) In a trailing imbricate fan. 5. (a) Beginning situation.6).6. see next section) Fig. 5. but often it splays upwards towards the surface. #1 is the oldest imbricate. As long as the splay does not reach the surface. Such a system we call an imbricate fan. Development of a fault propagation fold. (b) Trailing imbricate fan. Fault-propagation folds are characterised by: • A distinct asymmetry with a steep forelimb and a shallow back limb. A typical aspect is that the fault tip progressively shifts forward and upward. as the fold structure develops (Fig. The detachment can propagate in its own plane. #3 the youngest Page 39 . • Upward (listric) curvature of the fault produces a syncline at the back of the system (a fault-bend fold. (c) Situation after another increment of slip and fault propagation. with the youngest imbricate at the back. 5. This is the most common situation. carrying the older imbricates "on its back". 5.7. with each splay forming a fault-propagation fold. • Slip on the fold decreases towards the fault tip. The older imbricates are rotated to a steeper position (Fig. In a leading imbricate fan the youngest imbricate is in the front. which is sometimes called "piggy-backing". 5. (a) Leading imbricate fan. Fig. a fold starts to develop. • The frontal synclinal axial plane ends at the fault tip. thrusting over older imbricates (Fig.7b). Imbricate fans Leading imbricate fan Trailing imbricate fan An upward splay rarely comes alone.

5. Fig.Structural Geology Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts Fault-bend folds Active axial plane Passive axial plane Thrusts have ramps and flats. The fault has stepped up from the bottom (left) to the top (right) of the competent layer. 5. through which materials moves. Compass for scale Page 40 . Example of a small-scale ramp-flat system in sedimentary rocks from Sestri Levante in Italy. Figure 5.9 shows an example of a ramp-flat system in a small-scale thrust. Two types of axial planes develop (Fig. P = passive axial planes that move with the material. The distance between the two axial planes indicate the offset along this fault. The bends in the faults produce accommodation folds: fault-bend folds.8): • Active axial planes: These are fixed relative to the fault ramps and flats. Fig. just like normal faults can have. Each bend in the fault is associated with an active axial plane. They move together with the material along the fault. 5. A = active axial planes.8.9. • Passive axial planes: These are fixed relative to the layers they bend. Progressive development of a thrust with a ramp and two flats.

5. Example of a "mini" fold-and-thrust belt on Santorini Island. This means that the youngest horses are at the leading end in the front (left).11. bounded by a fault on both sides. Hinterland-dipping (a) or foreland-dipping (b) duplexes form depending on the timing of the formation of new horses. b) However. Original structure dipping about 40° to the right. 5. Page 41 . Fig. if the new horse only forms after the older horses have moved over it. (Fig.11b). 5. de-activated faults are drawn with a mediumthick line. As with extensional duplexes.11a).and floor-fault from left to right. Active fold is the thick line. The oldest horses on the right have been steepened by riding piggy-back on the younger horses on the left. depending on when the new horses are formed relative to the displacement of the older horses. they consist of a number of lenses or horses. Small-scale duplex structure with 23 horses. Fig. Fig. 5. One of the most famous textbook examples comes from Crow's Nest Pass in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (Fig. Hinterland-dipping duplex Foreland-dipping duplex As with imbricate fans.12. Greece. The duplex consists of many small horses.10 and 5. a) If new horses are formed at the front (in the slip direction).10). The structure was formed by slumping of still soft volcanic sediments.10. one gets a foreland-dipping duplex. Canadian Rocky Mountains. the older horses are tilted to the back and you get a hinterland-dipping duplex (Figs 5.Structural Geology Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts Compressional duplex Duplexes also form under compression. Crow's Nest Pass. you can have different types of duplexes. that make a progressively bigger angle with the roof. 5. This is the most common of the two types. relative to the movement of older horses.

14). The latter steepened by the younger imbricates in the front of the belt • Stratigraphically deeper units outcropping in the rear. Angle of taper What determines the wedge shape and the angle of taper (" )? Consider a wedge as shown in figure 5.13. Fig. 5. 5. The size of the circle thus decreases from rear to front. NE Spain. The two are separated by a detachment. usually associated with subduction. Several fault-propagation folds to the right are the result of the propagation of blind faults that did not breach the surface. The trace of the frontal thrust that breached the surface is shown on the left. The base of the wedge is the detachment and to get sliding. Page 42 . These wedge-shaped or tapered fold and thrust belt characteristically have: • Shallow dipping thrusts in the front. 5. Such belts are normally wedge shaped or tapered (like in an accretionary wedge). The force applied from the rear is balanced by the friction of the material sliding over the detachment. 5. The geometry is similar to a bulldozer pushing a pile of sand.12-13) are found in many places in the world. as deeper rocks are exposed in the rear of the belt. The differential stress (!#) thus decreases from the rear of the wedge to the front of the wedge.Structural Geology Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts Fig. They are thin in the front and thicker at the back (Fig. and steeper ones in the rear.12 or a bulldozer pushing a layer of sand. Fold-and-thrust structure in Mesozoic sediments at Molinos. Tectonic transport to the left (north). the critical shear stress must be reached at this detachment.14. Section through a fold-and-thrust belt (eastern front of Rocky Mountains). The size of the Mohr circle for stress is equal to the differential stress. Fold and thrust belts Fold and thrust belts (Fig. • Metamorphic grade increasing from front to rear. and youngest strata in the front. In general there is the situation that a substrate moves relative to the overlying thrusting rocks.

so thrusting only occurs at the rear of the wedge at point C. all Mohr circles simultaneously touch the failure envelope.15). The angle of taper is larger than the critical taper (" > " crit) (Fig.15. Case 2. In this case the detachment only fails at the front (point A). The whole detachment is activated. This angle is clearly related to the failure properties of the material and the friction along the detachment. The wedge is in balance at the critical angle of taper. Erosion effect Erosion can change the angle of taper. !# is highest for point C and smallest for point A. If failure occurs. (b) Wedge at the critical angle of taper.15b). B. and C on the detachment at the base of a wedge (Fig. so they are all left-aligned. 5. Case 3. The pressure is proportional to depth. even though it has the largest differential stress. The size of the Mohr circle at C is larger than that at A.15a). (a) Taper is zero. The minimum stress for all Mohr circles is the same.15c). but the front remains undeformed. 5. The horizontal stress is added by the push from the rear. Explanation of the concept of a critical angle of taper. (c) Wedge at a taper larger than the critical angle of taper. it will first occur at point C at the rear of the wedge. Consider three points A. (" = 0°) Case 1. its circle is shifted to the right.Structural Geology Chapter 5: Reverse faults and thrusts The position of the circle along the normal stress axis is determined by the pressure. The depth to the detachment is the same everywhere. 5. If the back of the wedge gets thicker by thrusting. (" = "crit) Critical angle of taper (" > "crit) Fig. Now the pressure increase from point A to C is so large that the Mohr circle for C does not touch the failure envelope. but because C is deeper. If the wedge is to steep. Page 43 . where the detachment is deepest. and thus influence thrusting in a wedge. The angle of taper is zero (" = 0°) (Fig. thrusting at the rear thickens the wedge at the rear and increases the taper. Movement at the front and not at the rear means the wedge gets stretched and the angle of taper decreases. 5. The pressure at the detachment is therefore highest at the rear. At the critical angle of taper. The vertical stress at the detachment is proportional to depth. as the Mohr circles for all points touch the failure envelope. Now point A at the front of the wedge is the first to reach failure. We see that the wedge develops towards the critical angle of taper. The angle of taper is equal to the critical taper (" = "crit) (Fig. so we can take the vertical stress (#yy) as the minimum principal stress. thrusting at the front will decrease the taper. the taper increases: " gets bigger. with thrusting along the whole detachment. If the wedge is too shallow. and therefore #yy is constant. 5.