Oblique contractional reactivation of inherited heterogeneities: Cause for arcuate orogens

Elisa Calignano*, D. Sokoutis, E. Willingshofer, J.-P. Brun, F. Gueydan, S. Cloetingh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We use lithospheric-scale analog models to study the reactivation of pre-existing heterogeneities under oblique shortening and its relation to the origin of arcuate orogens. Reactivation of inherited rheological heterogeneities is an important mechanism for localization of deformation in compressional settings and consequent initiation of contractional structures during orogenesis. However, the presence of an inherited heterogeneity in the lithosphere is in itself not sufficient for its reactivation once the continental lithosphere is shortened. The heterogeneity orientation is important in determining if reactivation occurs and to which extent. This study aims at giving insights on this process by means of analog experiments in which a linear lithospheric heterogeneity trends with various angles to the shortening direction. In particular, the key parameter investigated is the orientation (angle α) of a strong domain (SD) with respect to the shortening direction. Experimental results show that angles α ≥ 75° (high obliquity) allow for reactivation along the entire SD and the development of a linear orogen. For α ≤ 60° (low obliquity) the models are characterized by the development of an arcuate orogen, with the SD remaining partially non-reactivated. These results provide a new mechanism for the origin of some arcuate orogens, in which orocline formation was not driven by indentation or subduction processes, but by oblique shortening of inherited heterogeneities, as exemplified by the Ouachita orogen of the southern U.S.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-558
Number of pages17
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • analog models
  • oblique shortening
  • Ouachita orogen
  • strong domain
  • tectonic inheritance


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