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Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

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j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s ev i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / t e c t o

Mesozoic and Cenozoic vertical movements in the Atlas system

(Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia): An overview
Dominique Frizon de Lamotte a,, Pascale Leturmy a, Yves Missenard a,1, Sami Khomsi b, Geoffrey Ruiz c,
Omar Saddiqi d, Francois Guillocheau e, Andr Michard f

Univ Cergy-Pontoise, Dpartement des Sciences de la Terre, F-95 000 Cergy, France
Laboratoire Goressources, INRST, Bordj Cdria, 57 rue 7301, par av. Tahar-Ben-Ammar-Menzach 9B, 1013 Tunis, Tunisia
Univ Neuchtel, Geological Institute Emile Argand 11/CP 158 CH-2009 Neuchtel, Switzerland
Laboratoire de Godynamique et Thermochronologie, Facult des Sciences An Chock, BP 5366, Casablanca Maarif, Morocco
Univ Rennes 1 Geosciences-Rennes (UMR 6118); Campus de Beaulieu, 35042 Rennes Cedex, France
10, rue des Jeneurs, 75002 Paris, France

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 25 March 2008
Received in revised form 18 September 2008
Accepted 16 October 2008
Available online 29 October 2008
Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia)
Vertical movements

a b s t r a c t
The EW trending Atlas System of Maghreb consists of weakly shortened, intra-continental fold belts
associated with plateau areas (Mesetas), extending between the south-westernmost branch of the
Mediterranean Alpine Belt (Rif-Tell) and the Sahara Platform. Although the Atlas system has been erected
contemporaneously from Morocco to Algeria and Tunisia during the Middle Eocene to Recent, it displays a
conspicuous longitudinal asymmetry, with i) Paleozoic outcrops restricted to its western part; ii) highest
elevation occurring in the west, both in the Atlas System and its foreland (Anti-Atlas); iii) low elevation
corridors (e.g. Hodna) and depressed foreland (Tunisian Chotts and Sahel area) in the east. We analyse the
origin of these striking contrasts in relation with i) the Variscan heritage; ii) crustal vertical movements
during the Mesozoic; iii) crustal shortening during the Cenozoic and nally, iv) the occurrence of a Miocene
Quaternary hot mantle anomaly in the west. The Maghreb lithosphere was affected by the Variscan orogeny,
and thus thickened only in its western part. During the Late PermianTriassic, a paleo-high formed in the
west between the Central Atlantic and Alpine Tethys rift systems, giving birth to the emergent/poorly
subsident West Moroccan Arch. During the late Middle JurassicEarly Cretaceous, Morocco and western
Algeria were dominantly emergent whereas rifting lasted on in eastern Algeria and Tunisia. We ascribe the
uplift of the western regions to thermal doming, consistent with the Late Jurassic and Barremian gabbroic
magmatism observed there. After the widespread transgression of the high stand CenomanianTuronian
seas, the inversion of the Atlas System began during the Senonian as a consequence of the AfricaEurasia
convergence. Erosion affected three ENE-trending uplifted areas of NW Africa, which we consider as
lithospheric anticlines related to the incipient AfricaEurope convergence. In contrast, in eastern Algeria and
Tunisia a NW-trending rift system developed contemporaneously (Sirt rifting), normal to the general trend
of the Atlas System. The general inversion and orogenesis of the Atlas System occurred during two distinct
episodes, MiddleLate EoceneOligocene and Late MiocenePliocene, respectively, whereas during the
intervening period, the AfricaEurope convergence was mainly accommodated in the Rif-Tell system.
Inversion tectonics and crustal thickening may account for the moderate uplift of the eastern Atlas System,
not for the high elevation of the western mountain ranges (Middle Atlas, High Atlas, Anti-Atlas). In line with
previous authors, we ascribe part of the recent uplift of the latter regions to the occurrence of a NE-trending,
high-temperature mantle anomaly, here labelled the Moroccan Hot Line (MHL), which is also marked by a
strip of late MioceneQuaternary alkaline magmatism and signicant seismicity.
2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (D.F. de Lamotte).
Now at: Univ Paris-Sud, Dpartement des Sciences de la Terre, Bat. 504, 91 405
Orsay Cedex, France.
0040-1951/$ see front matter 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Vertical movements of the continental crust and related changes of

topography are the consequence of a wide variety of processes,
occurring at different time and spatial scales. Among these processes,
the more important are: (1) crustal/lithospheric thinning or thickening;
(2) crustal/lithospheric folding or exuration, (3) large scale upwelling
or downwelling mantle ows. Their origin still remains a matter of


D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

debate and the quantication of their consequences on the topography

is poorly constrained due to the complicated interactions between them.
The topography of the diffuse, MesozoicCenozoic Africa/Eurasia
plate boundary zone (i.e. the Alpine system) is currently extensively
studied but most of the previous work concentrates on the Alps, the
Pyrenees and their European foreland (see a review in Cloetingh et al.,
2007). By contrast, the topography of the North African mountain
belts and foreland has been poorly studied yet. In this paper, we focus
on this area (Fig. 1). More precisely, the study area is formed by the
Atlas system of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and subsidiary by both its
hinterland (the Tell-Rif) and foreland (the Sahara domain). This
system consists of weakly shortened, intracontinental fold-and-thrust
belts including plateau areas (the so-called Mesetas) (Fig. 1) (review
in Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2000). It is an excellent natural laboratory
to illustrate the different processes controlling the temporal evolution
of topography for the following reasons: (1) except in Tunisia, there is
no Cenozoic extension interfering with the overall compressional
regime as the European Cenozoic Rift System in Europe; (2) the
paleostress direction remained broadly stable (NNW) since the Late
Cretaceous (At Brahim et al., 2002; Bracne and Frizon de Lamotte,
2002; Bouaziz et al., 2002); (3) the relative independence between
the operating processes allows us to distinguish and describe each of
them separately (Missenard, 2006); and (4) the Atlas domain
underwent a protracted but relatively simple and well documented
post-Paleozoic geological history (see a review in Frizon de Lamotte et
al., 2000; Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2008).
Our main concern is to understand the present asymmetry of the
Maghreb topography from west to east (Fig. 1). Why do the highest
mountains develop in Morocco, in the Marrakech High Atlas, and not in
Algeria or Tunisia? Why the only mountain range south of the South
Atlas Front (SAF) is in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas? Why, by contrast, the
front of the Tunisian Atlas is an actively subsiding area? In this paper, we
propose a review of the main events which affected the Atlas system
since the Triassic with emphasis on the periods when the lithosphere
behaviour was not uniform at the scale of the Maghreb. Then we
examine the different processes responsible for the vertical movements:
thermal uplift or subsidence, lithospheric folding, tectonic inversion and
crustal shortening. Finally we discuss how these processes alternate
through time and how they can explain the present topography.
2. Geological setting and present topography of the Maghrebian
orogenic domain2
The Maghrebian orogenic domain comprises two different systems:
the AlboranKabyliasPeloritanCalabria (AlKaPeCa; Bouillin, 1986)
and Tell-Rif (shortly Tell-Rif, also referred to as Maghrebide Belt) to
the north and the Atlas to the south (Fig. 1B). AlKaPeCa domain is of
European origin and corresponds to the former northern margin of the
Alpine Tethys now included in the Tell-Rif, whose it forms the internal
domain. So, the Tell-Rif pertains to the Western Mediterranean Alpine
belts and results from the closure of the Maghrebian branch of the
Alpine Tethys (Durand-Delga and Fontbot,1980; Bouillin,1986; Favre et
al., 1991). By contrast, the Atlas is an intra-continental asymmetric
system, which comprises both mountain belts (High and Middle Atlas in
Morocco, Saharan Atlas and Aurs Mountains in Algeria, and Tunisian
Atlas in Tunisia) but also poorly deformed, broadly tabular domains (the
so-called Western, or Moroccan, and Eastern or Oran Mesetas) only
present in its western part. The asymmetry of the system is also obvious
in the repartition of rock material with older rocks (Paleozoic and lower
Mesozoic) cropping out widely in the western Maghreb whereas
Cenozoic rocks dominate in the eastern part of the system.
South of the South Atlas Front is the Sahara foreland with only few
Meso-Cenozoic deformation. This domain was affected by the Variscan

The location of the cited geological structures is indicated on Fig. 1A or B.

orogeny in its western part as shown by Late Paleozoic folding in the

Anti-Atlas and Ougarta ranges (Fig. 1B). The Variscan Front cut
obliquely the Atlas system (Fig. 1B) introducing an initial asymmetry
in the Maghreb with a thickened lithosphere only in its western part.
The geometry of the Atlas system is directly inherited from the Early
Mesozoic rifting of both Central Atlantic and Alpine Tethys riftings
(Favre et al., 1991). By the Upper Cretaceous, the convergence between
the Africa and Eurasia plates (see review in Rosenbaum et al., 2002)
resulted in its progressive inversion, which reached a climax by the
Middle Eocene.
It is generally acknowledged that the Maghrebian orogenic domain
results from the Cenozoic EurasiaAfrica convergence and that the
present-day relief is a direct consequence of the resulting collision.
Interestingly, the highest peaks as well as highest mean altitude are
situated in the intra-continental Atlas and not in the Tell-Rif, and a
strong EW asymmetry of the topography can be observed:
- the Tell-Rif system exhibits a mean altitude of only 500 m with
highest altitude of c.a. 2500 m in the Central Rif (Morocco) and
Kabylias (Algeria). In Western Algeria, the Cheliff Miocene basin
represents an area of low elevation superimposed onto the Tell
- the Atlas system presents a strong longitudinal asymmetry with a
mean elevation of 1500 m (top: 4167 m) in the High Atlas
(Morocco) against 1050 m (top: 2120 m) in the Saharan Atlas and
only 600 m in the Aurs and Tunisian Atlas (top: 2225 m in the
Aurs and 1542 m in the Tunisian Atlas). Between the Saharan
Atlas and the Aurs, the Hodna Miocene basin crosses the Atlas
system and represents a puzzling cross-element sealing the
earliest Atlas tectonic events.
South and east of the South Atlas Front, the Sahara foreland
domain presents similar longitudinal asymmetry with decreasing
altitude from west to east (Figs. 1A, 2). In Morocco, the Anti-Atlas
domain is an uplifted area (mean altitude: 800 m; top: 2500 m)
separated from the High Atlas by narrow foreland basins, namely the
Souss and Ouarzazate basins. Between the two basins, the Pan-African
basement of the Marrakech High Atlas is in direct contact with the
basement of the Anti-Atlas (Siroua massif). In Eastern Morocco and
Western Algeria, the Sahara domain exhibits a regular southward
slope of 0.2. This slope suffers an active incision by transverse rivers,
suggesting a present uplift of the foreland domain. By contrast, in
Eastern Algeria and Southern Tunisia, the Atlas foreland corresponds
to the Chotts (=sebkhas) domain, which is an active subsiding area.
To the east, the South Atlas Front suffers a 90 swing and becomes NS.
The Tunisian Atlas foreland is partly exposed in the Sahel coastal plain
and in the interior part of the Gulf of Gabs, which displays very low
elevation, close to the sea level or even below, and is partly occupied
by salt lakes recording high rate Quaternary subsidence.
3. Uplifted areas of Late PermianEarly Cretaceous age
After the Variscan orogeny, the beginning of the Mesozoic Era is
dominated by the rifting, which led to the break up of Pangea and
resulted in the formation of both Atlantic and Alpine-Tethys margins
of the Maghreb. At that time the asymmetry of the Maghreb was
marked with development of uplifted areas in its western part contrasting with continuous subsidence in its eastern part.
3.1. The TriassicLiassic West Moroccan Arch (WMA) revisited
In Morocco, the break up of Pangea is expressed by successive
extensional episodes (Laville et al., 2004). The rst episode is Late
PermianLate Triassic, but particularly active during the MiddleLate
Triassic being related to the Central Atlantic rifting. Thanks to seismic
proles (Had et al., 2006; Had, 2006) or to extensive eld studies

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928


Fig. 1. Topography and main structural domains of NW Africa. A: Topographic map (GTOPO30 data); the red doted lines indicate the position of the topographic proles (Fig. 2).
The numbers refer to the geological structures cited in the text: Anti-Atlas: 1 Aurs Massif: 2 Bahira Basin: 3 Cheliff Basin: 4 Chotts area: 5 Doukkala Gulf: 6 Essaouira
Basin: 7 Gabs Gulf: 8 Guercif Basin: 9 Hammamet Gulf: 10 High Atlas: 11 Hodna Basin: 12 Jebilet Massif; 13 Jeffara High: 14 Middle Atlas: 15 Missour Basin:
16 Ouarzazate Basin: 17 Ougarta Range: 18 Saghro Massif: 19 Saharan Atlas: 20 Sahel plain: 21 Sidi Toui High: 22 Siroua Massif: 23 Skoura Basin: 24 Souss
Basin: 25 Tadla Basin: 26 Talemzane High: 27 Tunisian Atlas: 28. B: Main structural domains (after Michard et al., 2008). The geological Maghreb essentially corresponds
to the Rif-Tell and Atlas orogenic domains. Also of interest in this paper are the close southern and eastern foreland areas of the Atlas system (from the Anti-Atlas to the Tunisian
Sahel area).


D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

Fig. 2. Topographic proles crossing the Maghreb (see location on Fig. 1A). A: Longitudinal proles in the Atlas system (black prole) and foreland (red prole). B: Transversal proles
through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia (from top to bottom).

(Medina, 1995; El Arabi, 2007), this event is well studied along the
Atlantic coast and in the Marrakech High Atlas, west and east of the
West Moroccan Arch (WMA), respectively (Fig. 3A). The WMA,
previously called Terre des Almohades by Choubert and Faure
Muret (196062) and Dorsale du Massif Hercynien Central by
Du Dresnay (1971) and Michard (1976), is classically interpreted as
an emergent land corresponding to the shoulder of the proto-Atlantic
basin. However, recent apatite ssion track studies (Ghorbal et al.,
2008; Saddiqi et al., 2009-this issue) suggest that it was rather a
subsident (Ghorbal et al., 2008) or poorly subsident (Saddiqi et al.,
2009-this issue) domain during the Late TriassicEarly Jurassic, whose
cover was subsequently eroded (Fig. 3B). West of the WMA, the normal
faults are mainly NNE-trending and developed before the outpour of
the basaltic ows pertaining to the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province
(CAMP), which covered virtually the whole area, 200 Ma ago (Verati
et al., 2007). Dikes and lava ows of the CAMP extended east and north
of the WMA in a very large area covering the western half of the
Maghreb (Fig. 4). In the eastern domain, Triassic rocks are buried
beneath a thick Meso-Cenozoic cover (more than 10 km thick in
some places). However, seismic data show that the Triassic rifting is
expressed as far as in the Ksour basin in the middle of the Saharan Atlas
(Yelles-Chaouche et al., 2001) where CAMP lava ows have also been
recognised (Meddah et al., 2007). On the other hand, dolerites associated with Upper Triassic evaporites are well known in the Rif-Tell
domain of the whole Maghreb indicating that rifting was also active
along the northern margin of Africa (Wildi, 1983).
A second rifting episode is related to the development of
the Maghrebian part of the Alpine Tethys (Fig. 4), resulting in an
outstanding example of a rift lled dominantly by carbonate rocks
(Du Dresnay, 1987; Warme, 1988). It was initiated after the
Hettangian, which corresponds to the development of a widespread

shallow platform, and propagated westward along the Maghreb

during the Lower to Middle Liassic and lasting up to the Bajocian in the
Middle Atlas (Charrire, 1990; Zizi, 2002). From a geometric point of
view, the Tethyan rifting developed mainly ENE to NE normal faults
(Stampi and Borel, 2002) (Fig. 4).
3.2. Late Middle JurassicEarly Cretaceous: widening of the West
Moroccan Arch versus Tunisian rifting
By the Bathonian, sedimentation became siliciclastic in Morocco
with the deposition of uvial red beds supplied by the neighbouring
lands of the WMA, which emerged synchronously, and by the Sahara
domain (Jenny et al., 1981; Haddoumi et al., 2008) (Fig. 5). At that
time, a uvial system following the High and Middle Atlas was a
transit zone for a sedimentary ux, which fed north- and northeastorientated wide deltas and deep sea fan sedimentation along the foot
of the Tethyan margin (in the present Rif domain) and in the Saharan
Atlas (Wildi, 1983). Farther to the east, in the Central an Eastern Tell as
well as in the Aurs and Tunisian Atlas, the sedimentation remained
dominated by carbonate deposition (Vila, 1980) in a context of continuous subsidence (Bracne et al., 2003). Hence, we observe an uplift
of the western half of the Maghreb contrasting with the continuous
subsidence of the eastern half. Another specic aspect of the western
domain and of the Central High Atlas in particular is the occurrence of
transitional/alkaline intraplate magmatism responsible for a number
of plutonic and volcanic bodies emplaced during the Bathonian and
later during the Barremian (see a recent review in Haddoumi et al.,
2008). The classical interpretation by Laville and Piqu (1992) is that
these magmas emplaced during a major phase of folding and subsequent erosion leading to the exposure of the plutonic rocks. For
these authors, the plutonic rocks and associated folds should be

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928


Fig. 3. The Triassic to Middle Jurassic West Moroccan Arch and surrounding areas. A: Paleogeography during the Late Triassic (modied from El Arabi, 2007). B: Paleogeography
during the Early and Middle Jurassic (modied from Jabour et al., 2004, in Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2008).

unconformably covered by JurassicCretaceous red beds. However,

recent thermochronologic data suggest that the plutonic rocks were
still situated at depth (T N 60) 9080 Ma ago (Barbero et al., 2007) and
not close to the surface as proposed by Laville and Piqu (1992).
Finally, the red beds overlying some of the gabbroic ridges have been

ultimately dated from the Late Paleocene (Charrire et al., in press). So

according to Charrire (1990) and Zizi (2002), it seems more reasonable to link the Jurassic magmatism of the High Atlas to the
continuation of an extensional tectonic activity (alternation of rift-sag
sequences in an overall extensional context; Warme, 1988). This


D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

Fig. 4. Map of the main Triassic-Lower Jurassic faults at the scale of the Maghrebian Atlas system (modied after Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2000). CAMP = Central Atlantic Magmatic
Province (200 Ma).

interpretation appears also consistent with the petrologic and

geochemical features of these magmatic rocks (Hailwood and
Mitchell, 1971; Harmand and Laville, 1983; Beraouz et al., 1994;
Amrhar et al., 1997; Lachkar et al., 2000; Lhachmi et al., 2001; Zayane
et al., 2002; Charrire et al., 2005; Haddoumi et al., 2008).
Trying to link the WMA widening and uplift, and the High Atlas
gabbroic magmatism, we put on the same map (Fig. 6) the Toarcian and
Bajocian shorelines (Elmi, 1999) and the boundary of the Late Jurassic
magmatic province. From this map, it can be suggested that both the
eastward displacement and widening of the WMA and the basalt and
gabbro emplacement are related to a MiddleLate Jurassic thermal
doming. The reason why the magmatic activity lasted in this region is
unknown. A particular conguration of the lithosphere favouring the
collection of magmatic uids at depth could be suggested.
From the Valanginian to Aptian, the enlarged West Moroccan Arch
was progressively divided into two distinct emergent lands, due to the
formation of two narrow, elongated gulfs (Fig. 7A) (Charrire, in
Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2008). The northern gulf followed the Middle

Atlas trend and was likely connected with the Peri-Tethyan seas. The
southern gulf developed northeastward starting from the Atlantic
margin (Essaouira basin) up to the Central Atlas border. These converging gulfs did not connect one to each other, being separated by
continental deposits in the south Middle Atlas area. At the same time,
the West Moroccan Arch was also disrupted by the Doukkala Gulf
extending from the Atlantic toward the Meseta axis (Fig. 7A).
During the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous, Eastern Algeria and
Tunisia received mostly pelagic sediments reaching a thickness of
2500 m for the Lower Cretaceous alone in the Tunisian Atlas southwest of Tunis (Jauzein, 1967; Turki, 1985; Ben Ferjani et al., 1990;
Herkat and Delfaud, 2000). This evolution does not result only from a
post-rift thermal subsidence: north of the Jeffara fault systems,
widespread thickness and facies variation indicate that the inherited
EW fault system continued to be active dening paleo-highs characterized by stratigraphic omissions or condensed sequences, and
elongated basins receiving several kilometres of sediments (Soussi
and Ben Ismail, 2000; Bouaziz et al., 2002) (Fig. 7B). This extensional

Fig. 5. Maghreb paleogeography during the Late Jurassic (modied after Feddan in Zizi, 2002). Note the widening of the WMA.

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928


Fig. 6. Map showing the displacement of the shoreline from Toarcian to Bajocian (data from Elmi, 1999) and the location of the Moroccan JurassicLower Cretaceous Magmatic
Province. A link between the widening of the WMA and the emplacement of the magmatic bodies is suggested.

system extends eastward in the gulfs of Gabs and Hammamet toward

the East Mediterranean Basin and westward up to the Saharan Atlas
(Dercourt et al., 1993, 2000).
In Tunisian basins, the reported Tethyan rifting of the Jurassic
Lower Cretaceous was controlled by major faults, presumably linked
to basement discontinuities (Khomsi et al., 2004; Abbes, 2004). They
have been interpreted as Jurassic faults, with a strike-slip component
in a transform margin (Bdir, 1995), allowing the development of an
instable carbonate platform (see reviews in Turki, 1985; Soussi, 2000)
with tilted panels, hemi-grabens and horst zones as the Sidi Toui High,
which represents a poorly subsident area since the Triassic (Busson,
1971; Ben Ferjani et al., 1990). Many of the Jurassic fault corridors are
inherited from Triassic times as indicated by interstratied basaltic
lavas to Triassic deposits. This syn-sedimentary extensional tectonics
lagged until the Cenomanian. Thus the general conguration of
eastern Maghreb during the Early Cretaceous was typically a faulted,
north deepening and subsiding platform (Fig. 7B) with large amounts
of deep shales and turbiditic series north of the KasserineAurs area
(the Kasserine area is situated in the middle of the Tunisian Atlas). At
the same time and south of Gafsa and Chotts areas, sedimentation was
dominated by inner platforms and coastal plain deposits with large
extent of evaporites, dolomites and proximal carbonates (Busson,
1971; Ben Ferjani et al., 1990).
4. Late CretaceousPaleocene: the rst effects of plate convergence
and Sirt rifting
By the early Late Cretaceous, the AfricaEurasia relative movement
changed drastically as a consequence of the opening of the SouthAtlantic Ocean (see a review in Rosenbaum et al., 2002). The
movement of Africa relative to xed Europe, which was an eastward
left-lateral displacement since 175 Ma, changed progressively into a
NS convergence between ca. 92 and 46 Ma, leading to the development of a set of structures at different scales. The asymmetry of the
Maghreb remains marked due to the effects of the Sirt rifting in the
eastern regions.
The CenomanianTuronian is a turning point of the geological
history of the Maghreb for another reason. At that time the whole
Maghreb has been covered by an importanttransgression leading to a
very large marine incursion covering the northern platforms of the
Sahara Domain with a shallow water sea marked by the deposition of a
homogeneous carbonate platform, Late CenomanianTuronian in age,
which forms a universal bench-mark for the subsequent vertical

movements. At the same time a subsident and deep marine basin

developed along the northern side of the Aurs and in the Tunisian
Atlas allowing the deposition of deep marine black shale, which is one
of the most important hydrocarbon source rock of the Atlas system.
Finally, by the early Late Cretaceous, we note also the cessation of the
magmatic activity in the High Atlas. It will take up again perhaps as soon
as the Eocene but more massively by the Middle Miocene (see below).
4.1. Post-Turonian lithospheric folding in the western Maghreb
In Morocco large areas, such as the Anti-Atlas or the northern part
of the Middle Atlas are devoid of Cretaceous to Middle Eocene deposits.
This well-known observation leads us to revisit a paleogeographical
concept developed as early as 1948, when Georges Choubert proposed
a paleogeographical map of Morocco for the CenomanianTuronian
period. On this map, he drew a 200 km-wide EW seaway at the place
of the present High Atlas, Southern Middle Atlas and Western Meseta
between two emerged lands: the Anti-Atlas to the south and the Terre
merge du Maroc Septentrional (Emergent Land of Northern
Morocco) to the north (Choubert, 1948). The latter re-named Terre
des Idrissides by Choubert and Faure-Muret (196062, 1971) who
claimed that it existed from the Late Jurassic to the Paleogene. This
paleogeographic unit remains present in the subsequent paleogeographic maps (e.g. Vila, 1980; Dercourt et al., 2000; Guiraud et al.,
2005). However, this interpretation, based on the lack of Cretaceous
outcrops in the alleged land is disputable. In fact, sedimentological
data from the Upper CenomanianTuronian series cropping out in the
Western Meseta, Middle and High Atlas and South Rif domains do not
indicate any coastal facies suggesting the proximity of a shoreline
northward or southward (Charrire et al., in press; Frizon de Lamotte
et al., 2008). Thus, it is likely that the entire north Moroccan territory
was ooded during the late Cenomanianearly Turonian high stand.
In this context, the lack of Cretaceous outcrops in the Terre des
Idrissides can be interpreted as the result of post-Turonian erosion,
which is, indeed, well documented in the Guercif Basin where the
Miocene molasses rest directly onto the Jurassic strata (Zizi, 2002).
Similarly, the Anti-Atlas domain was covered, at least partly, by
shallow water, CenomanianTuronian carbonates subsequently
eroded during the SenonianCenozoic times (Zouhri et al., 2008).
This regional erosion phase is documented, for example, in the
Tindouf Basin where the Cretaceous series are truncated by the MioPliocene molasses of the Draa Hamada (Fig. 8). If correct, the Terre
des Idrissides, the Anti-Atlas as well as the northern part of the

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928
Fig. 7. Paleogeography during the Barremian and Aptian. A: Paleogeography during the Aptian in the western Maghreb (from Charrire in Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2008). B: Restored cross-section through Tunisia at the end of Aptian times
[modied from Busson (1971) and Soussi (2000)].

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928


Fig. 8. Cross-section through the Hamada du Draa and Tindouf Basin [from Gevin (unpublished, 1974) in Fabre, 2005] showing the Upper Eocene(?)-Miocene unconformity onto
the CenomanianTuronian series. Location: on Fig. 9.

Reguibate Shield look like wide anticlines with intervening synclines

in the Western Meseta, High and Middle Atlas on the one hand and
Tindouf Basin on the other hand (Fig. 9). Given the wavelength (about
500 km) of the depicted folds, only a lithosphere folding (plis de fond
of ancient authors, e.g Argand, 1924) can be advocated conrming that
this process is a primary response to recently induced compressional
stress elds (Cloetingh et al., 1999), i.e. the beginning of NS convergence. Accordingly, we propose to abandon the concept of Late
JurassicPaleogene Terre des Idrissides and replace it by that of
North Moroccan Lithosphere Anticline, post-Turonian in age.

Such a lithospheric folding has been already proposed by Teixell et al.

(2003) but for a very long period since the Late Paleozoic until recent
times. We do not believe that such mechanism can be active during so
long a time because of the occurrence of major changes in the geodynamic context during this period (including the Variscan orogeny). From
a geodynamic point of view, the direction of these large structures is
consistent with what can be expected for a consequence of Africa
Eurasia convergence. They could be related to the initiation of subduction
in the western Mediterranean (see a review in Jolivet and Faccenna,
2000). The age of lithospheric folding is difcult to appraise. Geological

Fig. 9. Sketch map of the CretaceousEocene plateaus of western Maghreb (after Zouhri et al., 2008) with indication of the inferred lithosphere folds, i.e. from north to south: (1) between
the Rif and Atlas Domains;(2) on the site of the Anti-Atlas and (3) on the site of the Reguibat Shield. Red dashed lines: contours of the lithosphere anticlines; green dashed lines: contours
of the lithosphere synclines.


D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

data allow a large time bracket (post-Turonian and ante-Oligocene).

Taking into account the path of the EuropeAfrica convergence
(Rosenbaum et al., 2002), we can observe that it became really NS
(at almost right angle to the postulated folds) by the Paleocene.
In the Moroccan Atlas and Meseta domains, a moderate subsidence
continued during the Senonian and Paleocene with an alternation of
continental (mainly evaporitic coastal plain) and marine (mainly
carbonate platform) sedimentation depending on the global sea level
changes. Locally, tectonic shortening during the Senonian led to minor
folding due to syn-sedimentary inversion of faults inherited from the
rifting, with development of breccia along the faults and an unconformity at the bottom of the overlying Eocene strata (Froitzheim,
1984; Herbig, 1988), or to syn-sedimentary synclines lled by
evaporites as in the Tadla Basin. Paleocene red beds overlie
unconformably some of the anticlinal ridges of the Central High
Atlas (Charrire et al., in press), and a regional disconformity is
observed at the bottom of the EarlyMiddle Eocene in the Middle
Atlas synclines (Herbig and Trappe, 1994). However, the Late
CretaceousPaleocene deformation did not result in signicant relief
building, and the High Atlas domain was partly submerged by shallow
water seas until the late Middle Eocene (Tabuce et al., 2005).
4.2. Interference between convergence effects and Sirt rifting in eastern
In Eastern Maghreb, the geodynamic context is also complex
because it combines two different effects, namely the Sirt rifting and
the EurasiaAfrica convergence. The Sirt rifting (Fig. 10) was active
during at least the Late CretaceousPaleocene (Rusk, 2001; Abadi et al.,
2008), and it developed NWSE faults in a wide area from the Libyan
Desert to the Hodna Basin in Algeria (Bouaziz et al., 2002). It is worth

noting that this NWSE rift system is oblique to the Tethyan rifting,
which developed mainly EW normal faults (Figs. 4 and 7B).
Convergence is expressed by NESW trending folds, which are well
depicted on seismic proles from the Sahel area and Hammamet Gulf
in Eastern Tunisia (Bdir et al., 1992; Patriat et al., 2003). On these lines
(Fig. 11), growth strata show that the folding-related uplift remained
lower than subsidence during the Late Cretaceous and Paleogene.
In Eastern Algeria and Tunisia, the existence of lithospheric folds
cannot be displayed due to the persistence of subsidence in this domain.
However, the existence of basement highs (namely Talemzane, Sidi Toui
and Jeffara Highs) are well known by the petroleum geologists just south
of the eastern South Atlas Front (Ben Ferjani et al., 1990).
5. The Middle Eocene to Present inversion and uplift episodes in
the whole Atlas system
By the Middle Eocene began the orogenic relief building, which
contributes to the present topography (Fig. 1A). From this age until
now, the deformation is discontinuous, in spite of the continuous plate
convergence, and occurred in two distincts steps separated by a period
of subsidence and relative tectonic quiescence. It is worth noting that
the episodes of shortening appear quite synchronous at the scale of the
whole Maghreb. Contrasting with this common evolution, a thermal
component is superimposed in the western Maghreb, explaining the
present asymmetry of the relief (Fig. 1A).
5.1. The rst Atlastectonic event (Middle and Late Eocene)
The timing of the Cenozoic inversion events in the Atlas system
remains a matter of study and debate. We have shown that until the
Middle Eocene, the Atlas system was rather in a depression relative to

Fig. 10. Main structures linked to the Late Cretaceous Sirt rifting from Lybia to Eastern Tunisia. Data from the International Structural Map of Africa (in prep.) and from Casero and
Roure (1994), Rusk (2001), Chamot-Rooke et al. (2005), Abadi et al. (2008).

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928


Fig. 11. NS interpreted seismic line through the Tunisian Atlas foreland. (Sahel coastal plain) showing the Paleogene syn-sedimentary folding (from Khomsi et al. 2009).

the adjacent areas. It seems that the rst general inversion of the
TriassicJurassic normal faults and associated basins occurred during
the MiddleUpper Eocene. Evidence for an Eocene tectonic event has
been put forward rstly by Laftte (1939) in the Aurs Mountains
(Algeria). For this author it was a major event, and he called it the
Atlas event. The unconformity described by Laftte is unquestionable and has been recognized by subsequent studies in the Aurs
Mountains (Ghandriche, 1911; Frizon de Lamotte et al., 1998) as well
as in the Hodna Basin (Guiraud, 1975; Merikeche et al., 1998; Bracne
and Frizon de Lamotte, 2002).
In the Saharan Atlas (Western Algeria) as well as in the Moroccan
Atlas, such an event is difcult to identify because of the scarcity of
well-dated OligoceneLower Miocene sediments. In fact, in Morocco,
the so-called Mio-Pliocene continental molasses rest unconformably everywhere on already folded strata (see Fraissinet et al., 1988;
El Har et al., 2001; Missenard et al., 2007). More precisely, in the
Ouarzazate basin the earliest record of the Atlas uplift corresponds to
the onset of continental sedimentation, sourced in the uprising belt,
during the Late Eocene (Hadida Fm) (Teson et al., in press) The onlap
of Oligocene? Lower Miocene deposits (Ait Ouglif Fm) above the
folded and eroded MesozoicEocene beds allow the rst signicant
folding event of the Sub-Atlas Zone to be dated as Late EoceneEarly
Miocene. These fundamental new data validate the speculations by
Frizon de Lamotte et al. (2000) emphasising the importance of a late
Eocene event in the Atlas system of Morocco.
In Tunisia, a MiddleLate Eocene event is recognized offshore in the
foreland of the Atlas system (Patriat et al., 2003; El Euchi et al., 2004)
and has been extended to the whole Tunisian Atlas by Khomsi et al.
(2006a,b). Thus, in line with Frizon de Lamotte et al. (2000, 2006) and
Khomsi et al. (2006a,b), we assume that a MiddleLate Eocene compressive event (Atlas event) is general at the scale of the whole Maghreb.
The crustal thickening and relief building related to this event are
difcult to appraise. However, they are high enough to furnish coarse
conglomerates and to trigger the sinking of foreland basins in front of the
Aurs and Tunisian Atlas as well as on both sides of the High Atlas.
5.2. Oligo-Miocene general subsidence
After this rst generalized tectonic event and related inversion, the
whole Atlas system suffered a general subsidence phase recorded by

the deposition of thick molasses. In Tunisia and Eastern Algeria, these

Neogene molasses are partly marine and well-dated (Van Houten,
1981; Courme-Rault, 1985; Yaich et al., 2000). They are preserved not
only in the eastern foreland (Sahel and gulfs of Hammamet and
Gabs) but also in the Chotts area as well as in different basins
superimposed to the chain (see Bracne and Frizon de Lamotte, 2002;
Khomsi et al., 2006a,b, 2009; Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2006, and
references therein). Among the basins, the Hodna (Fig. 1A) is very
puzzling because it crosses the whole Atlas chain and, for an unknown
reason, did not suffer important uplift since its formation during the
Lower Miocene. In Western Algeria and Morocco, the Neogene molasses, which cover unconformably the Atlas system, are continental
and their age remains poorly constrained. In the Saharan Atlas, these
clastic deposits are preserved in wide synclines, covering about one
half of the chain (Fig. 12). In Morocco, these molasses are preserved
mainly in the residual foreland basins fringing the chain (namely the
Souss, Ouarzazate, Tadla-Bahira and Missour Basins, Fig. 1A) but also
in the core of the mountain belts as isolated outcrops (Rocher de la
Cathdrale in the Central High Atlas; Morel et al., 1999; Teixell et al.,
2003) or as uplifted basins (Skoura and Guercif Basins in the Middle
Atlas; Haouz basin between the Jebilet and the High Atlas). In the
Toundout Nappe, north of the Ouarzazate Basin, the Miocene deposits
situated originally in the chain are up to 1200 m thick. (Grler et al.,
1988). Equivalent deposits, but often thinner are known on the
Mesetas and on the northern Sahara where they top the Hamadas
(plateaus). Oligocene (?)-Miocene deposits are also known in the
Anti-Atlas domain, mostly in the depression formed by some of the
Precambrian inliers (Zenaga and Agadir Melloul) or preserved under
the Miocene phonolites of the Saghro Massif (Joly, 1962; Berrahma,
1995). Fig. 12 presents the domains where OligoceneNeogene deposits are cropping out. From this map, it is very likely that the Atlas has
been completely buried beneath a mass of dominantly clastic deposits
during this period (4000 m in the Hodna basin; Kheidri et al., 2007). In
the front of the Tunisian Atlas, the Oligo-Miocene series attain a
cumulative thickness of more than 2200 m. The source of this clastic
sedimentation may be found in the adjacent Sahara domain (Fabre,
2005). The Neogene sinking of the Atlas is locally accompanied by
extensional tectonics (Bracne and Frizon de Lamotte, 2002; Khomsi
et al., 2006a,b) and, at larger scale, it is likely related to the Mediterranean dynamics (see below).


D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

Fig. 12. Map of the present outcrops of Oligo-Neogene deposits in the Maghreb. This map suggests that the whole Maghreb was at that time completely covered by detritic sediments.

5.3. The second Atlas tectonic event

After the deposition of the Neogene molasses, a second generalized
compressional tectonic event is responsible for a second crustal shortening and relief building in the Atlas system. Examples of this renewed
compressive activity can be found everywhere in the Atlas system: along
the front of the Tunisian Atlas (Fig.13A), in the Aurs Mountains (Fig.13B),
in the Saharan Atlas as well as in the Moroccan Atlas (Fig. 13D). In detail,
we observe a widening of the inverted zone, which, in Morocco, includes
from now onwards the Siroua plateau and the Jebilet range bounded by
the Anti Atlas Major Fault and by the North-Jebilet Fault, respectively
(Fig. 14) (Had et al., 2006; Missenard et al., 2007). In eastern Algeria and
southern Tunisia, a southward propagation of the South Atlas Front (SAF)
is also observed (Frizon de Lamotte et al., 1998, 2000). By contrast, in
Eastern Tunisia, the NS segment of the SAF is located behind the Sahel
zone where Eocene deformation is evident (Fig. 11). Everywhere, the
relief building related to this second event is still active during the
Quaternary up to now (Caire, 1971; Coiffait, 1974; Turki, 1985; Chihi, 1995;
Anderson, 1996; Sbrier et al., 2006) and superimposed to the Middle
Late Eocene structures leading to seismic activity along many inherited
and weak zones of the Sahel and gulf of Hammamet (Chihi, 1995).
5.4. The thermal component of the relief in the Moroccan Atlas
The Cenozoic tectonic evolution is more or less similar (same age,
same intensity) for the entire Atlas system, and then cannot be
responsible for the asymmetry of the relief (Fig. 1A).

In fact, a thermal component is superimposed in the western

Maghreb explaining its higher elevation. The age of the initiation of
the relief related to this thermal anomaly is not very well constrained.
Missenard (2006) and Missenard et al. (2006) argued for a Middle
Miocene age, based on the age of the beginning of the associated
volcanism. Babault et al. (2008) suggested a more recent age (post
Miocene), based on a morphological analysis.
5.4.1. Why a thermal component is necessary to explain the relief of
The relief of the Moroccan Atlas cannot be accounted for by crustal
shortening alone. This question long remained a matter of debate for
the following reasons: (1) seismic surveys show the lack of deep roots
under the belts (Moho at 33 km under the Anti-Atlas, and at a maximum depth of 39 km under the highest part of the High Atlas) (Makris
et al., 1985; Tadili et al., 1986; Wigger et al., 1992; Ramdani, 1998)
(2) gravity surveys suggest a low density body at 50 km depth (Seber
et al., 1996). In addition, based on teleseismic P-wave travel time
tomography, these authors show that an upper mantle low velocity
anomaly exists beneath the High Atlas in relation with higher temperatures. They proposed that this anomaly contributes to the relief.
Such an uplift of the lithosphere/asthenosphere boundary has been
subsequently modelled by Frizon de Lamotte et al. (2004), Teixell et al.
(2005), Zeyen et al. (2005), Fullea Urchulutegui et al. (2006), and
Missenard et al. (2006).
According to Missenard et al. (2006), the domain with thinned
lithosphere/uplifted asthenosphere forms an oblique NESW strip,

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928


Fig. 13. Field examples showing the existence of important deformation before (rst Atlas event) and after (second Atlas event) the deposition of the Oligo-Miocene molasses.
The drawings underline the unconformity of the molasses and the subsequent deformation A Tunisia, Tell Mountains [from Khomsi et al. (2009)]; B Algeria, Aurs Mountains (after
Frizon de Lamotte et al., 1998); the Aurs is the location where Laftte (1939) dened the Atlas event; C Morocco, northern front of the High Atlas (from Missenard et al., 2007).

which we propose to call the Morocco Hot Line (MHL). The MHL
crosses the Anti Atlas, cuts the South Atlas Front in the Siroua region,
crosses the central High Atlas, follows the Middle Atlas and nally cuts
the Rif front in the Eastern Rif (Fig. 14). It is worth noting that the MHL
transects not only the Liassic rift system but also the area of the High
Atlas where the crust is thickest (Fullea Urchulutegui et al., 2006),
suggesting a sort of crust mantle decoupling during lithosphere
thinning. The MHL is underlined by a diffuse seismicity and by an

intraplate-type alkaline volcanism (Hoernle et al., 1995), which spans

the Miocene to late Pleistocene with lack of well dened age versus
position trend. Assuming that the volcanic activity is directly linked to
the lithosphere thinning, its emplacement probably occurred during
the MiddleUpper Miocene. However, the occurrence of some older
strongly alkaline volcanic rocks might suggest an earlier beginning
during the PaleoceneEocene (R. Maury and M. El Azzouzi in Frizon
de Lamotte et al., 2008).


D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

Fig. 14. Map of the Morocco Hot Line showing the relationships with the TriassicLiassic rift systems and the Upper JurassicLower Cretaceous West Moroccan Arch (modied after
Missenard, 2006).

5.4.2. Estimating the effects on the relief of lithosphere thinning along the
Using four modelled lithospheric cross-sections, Missenard et al.
(2006) made a rst attempt to quantify the effect of this lithosphere
thinning on the topography of Morocco. Each cros-section is modelled
on the basis of gravity (Bouguer and Free Air anomaly), geoid,
topography and heat ow data. In order to evaluate the effect of this
thermal anomaly, we removed the lithosphere thinning by dening a
lithosphere/astenosphere boundary gently dipping from 125 km at
the Atlantic margin to 145 km below the Sahara domain, thus maintaining the difference between oceanic and continental lithosphere of
our model. All other parameters of the model remain the same. This
assumption minimizes the effect of the lithosphere thinning, as we
could consider a small thickening under the thrust belt. The difference
between the modeled topography and the present one therefore corresponds to the minimum thermal topography. We have extrapolated the thermal topography along the four lithospheric proles
crossing the Atlas belt using a minimum curvature interpolator to
obtain a 3D map. It is therefore possible to present a map of what
should be the relief of Moroccan Atlas system without the inuence of
the lithosphere thinning (Fig. 15).
From this map (Fig. 15) it is now possible to discuss the
consequences of the thermal topography removal. In the Atlas domain, the Central High Atlas and the Middle Atlas loose up to 1000 m
of elevation. The areas above 2500 m in the inner part of the present
belt almost disappear when removing the thermal part of the relief,
and their altitudes become similar to the one of the Saharan Atlas

(Algeria) (Fig. 1A), whose lithosphere is not thinned. This drastic

reduction of the topography in the belt is in good agreement with the
low shortening value (less than 5% in the Middle Atlas, about 15% in
the High Atlas; Gomez et al., 1998; Brede, 1992, respectively). The
Anti-Atlas belt goes down to approximately the same level than the
adjacent Saharan area. In other words, the topography of this belt is
exclusively lithosphere-related, and crustal shortening does not play a
signicant role in this area (see also Babault et al., 2008). Several
regions dive below the sea level, such as the Souss and Bahira Basins.
The South Rif Corridor and the Guercif basin, which formed the
marine channel connecting the Western Mediterranean with the
Atlantic before the Messinian salinity crisis, also dives below sea level.
This result is important because it shows that, in this area, the thermal
uplift post dated the Messinian, which is well-dated in the Guercif
basin (Krijgsman et al., 1999). Moreover, the geomorphological
analysis performed by Babault et al. (2008) leads to the same conclusion at the scale of the whole Middle Atlas. So, incidentally and
according to these authors, we infer a possible causal relationship
between the Mediterranean salinity crisis and the MHL.
5.5. Discussion (Fig. 16)
After large-scale lithospheric folding during the Paleocene (Fig. 16A),
the rst general inversion of the Atlas system occurred during the
MiddleLate Eocene (Fig. 16B). It resulted in the localization of the
deformation along the faults inherited from the TriassicJurassic rifting
and development of foreland basins along both sides of the High Atlas in

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

Fig. 15. The effects of the Morocco Hot Line on the Moroccan topography (after Missenard, 2006). A topographic map of Morocco (the black lines locate the lithospheric transects used for the modelling). B the same map after subtraction of
the thermal component of the relief.



D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

Fig. 16. Schematic kinematic scenario for the Maghreb and West Mediterranean since the Upper Cretaceous (modied from Missenard, 2006). A: Initiation of the subduction of the
Alpine Tethys and development of lithospheric folds in the Maghreb area; B: First general inversion of the Atlas basin (rst Atlas event) followed by the initiation of the slab roll-back
in the Mediterranean area; C and D: Slab roll-back, development of the Tell-Rif accretionary prism, formation of the West Mediterranean basin (violet color) as an oceanic (or with
thinned continental crust) basin and possibly initiation of the Morocco Hot Line (MHL) the southern termination of the European Cenozoic Rift System.(ECRIS) is indicated. E and
F: docking of the Kabylies (pertaining to the AlKaPeCa domain, Fig. 1) on the African margin, tearing of the lithosphere along the North-African margin and development of the MHL.
G: second inversion of the Atlas system (second Atlas Event). At that time, the slab is almost completely detached.

Morocco as well as along the Atlas front in southern and eastern Tunisia.
In Morocco the inversion developed within the formerly formed
lithospheric syncline north of the Anti-Atlas (Fig. 9).
By the Oligocene, the uplift ceased and the whole system suffered a
general subsidence (Fig. 16C and D). The net consequence is that the
Eocene chain and foreland basins have been ooded below siliciclastic
molasses, which are mainly marine in the eastern Maghreb but mainly
continental in the western Maghreb. In Morocco, where the question
is more controversial, we have shown that the existence of remnants
of Oligo-Miocene molasses in the core of the chain militated in favour
of a sinking of the whole chain in agreement with the young AFT ages
(924 Ma) found by Missenard et al. (2008). How to explain such a

subsidence? We suspect a direct relationship with the exuration of

the North-African lithosphere in front of the AlKaPeCa domain
(internal zones of the Maghrebides), which started its trans-Mediterranean travel at that time (see a review in Jolivet and Faccenna, 2000).
The paleogeographic reconstitutions of OligoceneLower Miocene
deposits in Tunisia (Van Houten, 1981; Ben Ferjani et al., 1990; Yaich
et al., 2000) allow us to visualize the forebulge, a NESW high separating the northern Numidian sandstone (ysch) from the southern
Fortuna sandstone.
The Late OligoceneMiocene period corresponds to the climax of
Alpine shortening in the External Maghrebides (Tell-Rif) resulting
from the development of an accretionary prism at the expense of the

D.F. de Lamotte et al. / Tectonophysics 475 (2009) 928

oceanic turbidites in front of the moving AlKaPeCa domain and, nally,

of the collision of AlKaPeCa against Africa, which occurred at 18 or
15 Ma (Vergs and Sabt, 1999; Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2000; Roca
et al., 2004; Benaouali-Mebarek et al., 2006). The second Atlas event
appears as the direct consequence of the propagation of the deformation from the collision zone to the Atlas system (Fig. 16E to G).
This tectonic evolution, which is common to the entire Maghreb,
cannot explain the asymmetry of the topography (Fig. 1A). This one
results from a thermal effect, restricted to Morocco and related to the
development of the MHL (Fig. 16E to G) (see above).
6. Conclusion
The Maghreb forms an African salient situated east of the Atlantic
Margin, west of the Central Mediterranean Basin and south of the West
Mediterranean Basin (Fig. 1B). The Moroccan margin of the Atlantic,
developed as soon as the Early Liassic, is one of the oldest passive margin
preserved worldwide (Sahabi et al., 2004). The West Mediterranean
Basin is oored by a young (Miocene) thinned continental crust/oceanic
basin born within the Alpine collisional domain (see a recent review in
Cavazza et al., 2004). The Central Mediterranean basin is more complex
and formed by thinned continental crust developed during the Tethyan
(mainly Jurassic) and Sirt (Upper CretaceousPaleocene) rifting events
(Rusk, 2001; Guiraud et al., 2005; Abadi et al., 2008) (Fig. 10). The
geological evolution of the Maghrebian lithosphere is deeply marked by
this situation and, in particular, by the Mediterranean geodynamics.
The present asymmetry of the Maghrebian topography (Fig. 1A) is
due to the existence of the Cenozoic Moroccan Hot Line (MHL) and
related relief building (Teixell et al., 2005; Zeyen et al., 2005; Missenard
et al., 2006; Babault et al., 2008). However, the difference in the
behaviour of the western Maghreb compared to the eastern one is
inherited from a long and complex history since at least the Paleozoic.
First of all, Morocco is the only country where the Variscan orogeny is
widely developed (see a review in Michard et al., 2008) (Fig. 1B). Then,
during the Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous, this country suffered the up
and down movement of the West Moroccan Arch (WMA) (Ghorbal
et al., 2008; Saddiqi et al., 2009-this issue). Interestingly we note that
the MHL and associated volcanoes transects the WMA (Fig. 5) and in
particular, the zone (central High Atlas) where is concentrated a wide
range of transitional to alkalic intrusions and lava ows during the
Middle-(Late?) Jurassic and Early Cretaceous. Such a discontinuous succession of magmatic events since the Middle Jurassic until the Quaternary
shows that this domain remained through time a zone of particular
weakness at lithosphere scale. For such a pattern the hot spot explanation, which is sometime mentioned (see Missenard et al., 2006), is not
convincing because the magmatic events are recurrent along the same
strip without any evidence of apparent migration related to plate motion.
At larger scale, the MHL belongs to the Circum-Mediterranean
Anorogenic Cenozoic Igneous Province (CiMACI Province, Lustrino
and Wilson, 2007) and a general question is to understand how the MHL
is connected to the Mediterranean geodynamics. Along the Mediterranean coast of the Maghreb, the transition from calc-alcaline to alcaline
igneous activity occurred during the Miocene (Maury et al., 2000;
Coulon et al., 2002; Duggen et al. 2005). At that time, the West Mediterranean geodynamics was dominated by the lateral roll-back of the
Mediterranean subduction toward the Gibraltar Arc and the Tyrrhenian
Arc, respectively (Spakman and Wortel, 2004; Faccenna et al., 2004).
Lithosphere tearing along the Maghrebian margin could have triggered
anorogenic magmatism related to adiabatic decompression of asthenosphere replacing detached lithosphere. In other words, it is conceivable
that the space located in the rear of the retreating slab has been lled up
by asthenospheric material coming laterally from the MHL and causing
sublithospheric mantle upwelling along this trend. However, Missenard
et al. (2006), emphasising the cross-cutting relationships with the main
structural elements, in particular the Rif and South Atlas Fronts, suggest
an independence between the mantle upwelling responsible for the


MHL and the Mediterranean geodynamics. Given on the one hand the
size of the western branch of the CiMACI province from Canaries to
Germany (Lustrino and Wilson, 2007) and on the other hand the
importance of lithospheric movements in the Mediterranean region, it is
necessary to couple the two aspects. The MHL exists independently from
the Mediterranean regions but its development is probably enhanced by
lithosphere tearing along the Maghrebian margin. Finally, it is worth
noting that the vertical movement related to the MHL was probably the
major cause of the closure of the South-Rif marine seaway, which
triggered the Messinian salinity crisis in the Mediterranean.
At the other extremity of the system, the Tunisian Atlas and the
adjacent central Mediterranean basin have been the site of recurrent
(quasi-permanent) rifting: (1) the Tethyan rifting, which began
during the Upper Triassic and lasted up to the Lower Cretaceous in
the area, developed EW faults; (2) the Sirt rifting during the Upper
CretaceousPaleocene and nally (3) a Plio-Quaternary rifting,
already active at the moment (Casero and Roure, 1994). This last
rifting as well as the Sirt rifting developed NWSE trending faults,
which are at right angle to the convergence direction between the
Africa and Europe plate. The permanent subsidence in the Central
Mediterranean basin is responsible for the huge thickness of the
sedimentary cover (more than 18 km in some places). A magmatic
activity is associated to these rifts during the Mesozoic (Laridhi
Ouazaa and Bdir, 2004) the Cenozoic (Lustrino and Wilson, 2007).
However, the model explaining the origin of this magmatism requires
lithospheric extension to induce decompression melting and passive
upraise of asthenospheric and lithospheric melts. This model is very
different from the one proposed in Morocco, which requires an active
upraise of asthenospheric mantle. Moreover few relief is associated
with the Cenozoic volcanoes present in Western Lybia (Fig. 1A).
A last and puzzling question is to understand why is the Africa
Europe plate convergence differently accommodated through time,
either by lithospheric buckling (Upper Cretaceous (?) and Paleocene)
or by inversion along the inherited rifts (Fig. 16)? A discussion on the
mechanical reasons of this alternation is out of the purpose of our
paper. Frizon de Lamotte et al. (2000) proposed that the periods of
inversion in the Atlas system should correspond to periods of strong
coupling between the Africa and Eurasia plates whereas the periods of
relative tectonic quiescence, in fact periods of buckling, should be
signicant of a low coupling between the two plates. Low coupling
means that the convergence is mainly accommodated by subduction
and we can expect in the adjacent continents quite constant horizontal
tectonic forces triggering the development of large-scale compressive
instabilities. Strong coupling means that the convergence is partly
accommodated in the subduction zone, but also within the continents
themselves. During such periods, typically the MiddleLate Eocene and
the Plio-Quaternary, we can expect that the amount of deformation is
directly under the control of plate kinematics. Lithospheric buckling
then becomes insufcient to accommodate shortening, and faulting
(inversion) develops in the weaker zones (i.e. in the former rifts).
The reviews by two anonymous reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. We greatly beneted from the discussion in the eld or in the lab
with L. Baidder and E.H. El Arabi (Univ Casablanca An Chock, G. Bertotti
and B. Ghorbal (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam), A. Teixell, M.L. Arboleya
and J. Babault (Univ. Autonoma de Barcelona), M. Bedir (CRTE, Tunis),
M. Had (Univ Kenitra).

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