Environmental Studies Program


Date of this Version

Spring 5-2019


By definition, a critical wedge shows limited internal deformation, and, also by definition, penetrative strain is deformation occurring on a microscale within a deforming rock sequence. Critical wedge theory is typically used to understand the development of fold thrust belts, where variables such as the internal and basal friction, surface taper and dip of the décollement are taken into account. Numerical modeling shows that the minimum stable surface taper is dependent on the basal friction and the overburden, but that there are a range of possible tapers for a stable wedge. This study presents a series of analog models, where the overburden thickness is systematically varied over a constant basal décollement layer. Models are shortened to 5%, 10% and 15% respectively, creating a total of 12 experiments. Models were photographed from top and side view at each increment (1%) of shortening and side view photographs were used to measure surface taper. It was expected that the surface taper would increase with a thinner overburden, and this did occur in early model stages. However, in the latter stages of shortening and in the final configuration, models tended to the same surface taper, within the stable field, accommodated by varying amounts of penetrative strain. A model with a thinner overburden showed an increase in average penetrative strain within the overburden, relative to the comparison model with a thicker overburden from a previous experimental series. These results suggest that whilst critical wedge theory is a valuable construct for understanding the final configuration of a fold-thrust belt, the detailed behavior and development of the wedge cannot be understood without the inclusion of the penetrative strain concept.