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Mesozoic and Cenozoic vertical movements in the Atlas system (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia): An overview

Abstract : 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 finally, iv) the occurrence of a Miocene­Quaternary 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 significant seismicity.
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Submitted on : Monday, March 14, 2011 - 9:24:49 AM
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Dominique Frizon de Lamotte, Pascale Leturmy, Yves Missenard, S. Khomsi, Geoffrey Ruiz, et al.. Mesozoic and Cenozoic vertical movements in the Atlas system (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia): An overview. Tectonophysics, Elsevier, 2009, 475 (1), pp.9-28. ⟨10.1016/j.tecto.2008.10.024⟩. ⟨insu-00576278⟩

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