The postassembly, postrift evolution of passive margins is an essential element of global continental tectonics. Thermal and exhumational histories of passive margins are commonly attributed to a number of drivers, including uplift and erosional retreat of a rift-flank escarpment, intraplate fault reactivation, mantle-driven uplift, and erosional disequilibrium, yet in many cases, a specific factor may appear to dominate the history of a given passive margin. Here, we investigate the complex evolution of passive margins by quantifying exhumation patterns in western Scotland. We build upon the well-studied thermal evolution of the Scottish North Atlantic passive margin to test the importance of spatially heterogeneous factors in driving postorogenic burial and exhumation. Independent investigations of the cooling history from seven different field sites across the western Scottish Highlands using radiogenic apatite helium thermochronometry ([U-Th]/He; n = 14; ca. 31–363 Ma) and thermal modeling confirm that post-Caledonian heating and burial, as well as cooling and exhumation, must have been variable across relatively short distances (i.e., tens of kilometers). Heating associated with Paleogene hotspot activity and rifting locally explains some of this spatial variation, but additional drivers, including margin tilting during rifting, vertical separation along reactivated faults, and nonuniform glacial erosion in the late Cenozoic, are also likely required to produce the observed heterogeneity. These results indicate that passive margins may experience variable burial, uplift, and erosion patterns and histories, without exhibiting a single, dominant driver for behavior before, during, and after rifting.
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This study was funded by National Science Foundation Geomorphology grants EAR-003137015 and EAR-1123643.
Published in Lithosphere, v. 10, no. 3, p. 406-425. © 2018 The Authors This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY-NC license.