Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Earth and Ocean Sciences



First Advisor

Knapp, James H


Triassic rifting of the supercontinent Pangea left behind numerous basins on what is now the eastern North American margin. The South Georgia Rift (SGR) was thought to be the best preserved of these basins having been capped by thick basalt flows of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) and later buried beneath the Cretaceous and younger Coastal Plain. Because it is buried beneath the Coastal Plain, the SGR is only known through sparse drilling and geophysical methods. Despite this limited dataset, the SGR is the only one of the eastern North American Triassic basins known to overlie the ancient Alleghanian suture between Laurentia and Gondwana, although it isn't clear what influence this lithospheric weakness played in formation of the rift.

The SGR has been variably interpreted as a singular large basin or as isolated sub-basins separated by transfer zones. Transfer zones are rift-transverse structural features that link major faults of rift sub-basins and accommodate differences in extensional strain. Transfer zones have been previously hypothesized to be present in the SGR based on onshore projections of Central Atlantic fracture zones, but observations confirming their existence, such as reversal in sub-basin polarity, have been lacking.

Three separate hypotheses are tested related to the SGR: 1) the J-Horizon corresponds everywhere with basalt; 2) transfer zones are an important structural component of the SGR; 3) structural features of the Central Atlantic Ocean are related to transfer zones of the SGR. Reanalysis of existing well and seismic data shows that the extent of the flood basalt in the SGR is restricted and that the J-Horizon coincides with the base of the Coastal Plain. Subsurface mapping reveals reversals in sub-basin polarity, confirming the existence of previously hypothesized transfer zones. Small circle projections of the transfer zones correlate with oceanic features, and Central Atlantic fracture zones project onshore into inferred transfer zones of the SGR. The results of these studies suggest that tectonic inheritance of the Alleghanian suture played an important role in the rifting of Pangea and that tectonic inheritance may be an important process for the formation of an ocean basin.


© 2013, David Michael Heffner

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