The Role of Premagmatic Rifting in Shaping a Volcanic Continental Margin: An Example From the Eastern North American Margin

G. Lang, U. S. ten Brink, D. R. Hutchinson, G. S. Mountain, U. Schattner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Both magmatic and tectonic processes contribute to the formation of volcanic continental margins. Such margins are thought to undergo extension across a narrow zone of lithospheric thinning (~100 km). New observations based on existing and reprocessed data from the Eastern North American Margin contradict this hypothesis. With ~64,000 km of 2-D seismic data tied to 40 wells combined with published refraction, deep reflection, receiver function, and onshore drilling efforts, we quantified along-strike variations in the distribution of rift structures, magmatism, crustal thickness, and early post-rift sedimentation under the shelf of Baltimore Canyon Trough (BCT), Long Island Platform, and Georges Bank Basin (GBB). Results indicate that BCT is narrow (80–120 km) with a sharp basement hinge and few rift basins. The seaward dipping reflectors (SDR) there extend ~50 km seaward of the hinge line. In contrast, the GBB is wide (~200 km), has many syn-rift structures, and the SDR there extend ~200 km seaward of the hinge line. Early post-rift depocenters at the GBB coincide with thinner crust suggesting “uniform” thinning of the entire lithosphere. Models for the formation of volcanic margins do not explain the wide structure of the GBB. We argue that crustal thinning of the BCT was closely associated with late syn-rift magmatism, whereas the broad thinning of the GBB segment predated magmatism. Correlation of these variations to crustal terranes of different compositions suggests that the inherited rheology determined the premagmatic response of the lithosphere to extension.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JB019576
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©2020. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • Central Atlantic
  • Eastern North American Margin
  • continental breakup
  • inherited rheology
  • lithosphere thinning
  • volcanic continental margin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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