Cretaceous long-distance lithospheric extension and surface response in South China

Li J., Dong S., Cawood P. A., Thybo H. J., Clift P. D., Johnston S. T., ...More

Earth-Science Reviews, vol.243, 2023 (SCI-Expanded) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Review
  • Volume: 243
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2023.104496
  • Journal Name: Earth-Science Reviews
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, Aerospace Database, Aquatic Science & Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA), Artic & Antarctic Regions, CAB Abstracts, Communication Abstracts, Environment Index, INSPEC, Metadex, Veterinary Science Database, DIALNET, Civil Engineering Abstracts
  • Keywords: Cretaceous, Crustal and mantle processes, Lithospheric extension, South China, Surface response
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Lithospheric extension plays a pivotal role in governing the evolution of continents and the birth of oceanic basins on Earth. Despite this, quantifying wide-mode lithospheric extension and its effects on surface uplift remain elusive. The vast (> 800-km-wide) Cretaceous extensional system in South China offers a unique opportunity to study the processes and mechanism(s) of wide-mode extension and their impacts. Here we review the essential constraints from crustal and mantle structures determined from geological, seismic reflection/refraction, and other geophysical data. Our compilation reveals a stratified lithosphere with depth-dependent extension in a magma-poor domain, expressed by normal faulting in the upper crust, ductile stretching in the mid-lower crust, and localized Moho uplift associated with mantle shear zones. From the magma-poor domain to the magma-rich domain, lateral variations in the extensional mode involve increased crustal melting, decreased crust-mantle decoupling, and mantle shear-zone abandonment caused by magmatic underplating. Extension-related strain fields across the South China lithosphere are uniformly NW-SE oriented, indicating vertically coherent deformation. Stress transmission across this coherent system likely occurred via basal traction and localized mantle shearing. Lower-crustal stretching and lithospheric removal accompanied and promoted the tectonic exhumation of extensional domes and mountain ranges. We propose a coupling between slab rollback, mantle flow, and lithospheric extension. Rollback-induced mantle flow likely drove lithospheric extension in South China by imposing shear forces at the lithosphere base.