The “Passive” Margin of Eastern North America: Rifting and the Influence of Prerift Orogenic Activity on Postrift Development

Martha Withjack, Mary Ann Malinconico, Michael Durcanin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We have analyzed and synthesized geologic and geophysical data from the onshore Newark rift basin and adjacent onshore and offshore basins to better understand the Mesozoic development of the eastern North American rift system and passive margin. Our work indicates that rifting had three phases: (1) an initial, prolonged phase of extension and subsidence; (2) a short-lived phase with higher rates of extension and subsidence, intrabasin faulting, and intense magmatism; and (3) a final phase with limited subsidence and deposition. Additionally, our work shows that anomalous uplift and erosion, associated with crustal-scale arching/warping subparallel to the prerift and syn-rift crustal fabric not the continent-ocean boundary, affected a region landward of the basement hinge zone. Uplift and erosion began during the final rifting phase and continued into early drifting with erosion locally exceeding 6km. Subsequent subsidence was minimal. We propose that denudation unloading related to relic, prerift orogenic crustal thickness and elevated topography triggered the anomalous uplift and erosion. After the Paleozoic orogenies, postorogenic denudation unloading (cyclic erosion and isostatic rebound/uplift) significantly thinned the thickened crust and reduced topographic elevation. During rifting, extension stretched and tectonically thinned the crust, promoting widespread subsidence and deposition that dampened the postorogenic cycle of erosion and isostatic rebound/uplift. During the rift-drift transition, with extension focused near the breakup site, denudation unloading resumed landward of the basement hinge zone, producing significant erosion and uplift (related to isostatic rebound), crustal thinning, and topographic decay that left behind only eroded remnants of the once massive rift basins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-29
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology


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