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If the basement fault-controlled style of deformation in the Wyoming foreland is dominated by elastic response of the upper lithosphere, and the deformation in the foreland is genetically linked to the horizontal compression characteristic of the thin-skinned thrust belt to the west, then concepts of continuum mechanics can be combined with results of experimental rock mechanics to suggest the following.
(1) Basement faults initiate at the basement surface, propagate downward at an approximate 35° dip, and die at a depth dependent upon the magnitude of elastic shortening. Displacement on these faults necessarily decreases with depth. The faults are not expected to be appreciably curved in cross section.
(2) Foreland structures develop early as fault-cored folds of small amplitude (< 1,500 m, 4,900 ft), with selected ones developing to large amplitudes (up to 13,000 m, 43,000 ft). Regions where the entire lithosphere has not "failed" (early stage) show only small-scale structures (e.g., Colorado Plateau), whereas regions where the lithosphere has experienced through-going failure will show small intra-basinal structures (early) isolated by more widely spaced large basin-margin structures (late). This bimodal size distribution of structures is present in the Wyoming foreland.
In this study, horizontal compression as a sole causal mechanism can be combined with accepted mechanical concepts to produce a plausible model which adequately explains the regional features of Wyoming foreland deformation.
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