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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists


The Mountain Geologist
Vol. 59 (2022), No. 2. (April), Pages 47-75

The mechanics of initiation and development of thrust faults and thrust ramps

Sarah S. Wigginton, James P. Evans, Elizabeth S. Petrie


This study integrates the results of numerical modeling analyses based on outcrop studies and structural kinematic restorations to evaluate the mechanics of thrust fault initiation and development in mechanically layered sedimentary rocks. A field-based reconstruction of a mesoscopic thrust fault at Ketobe Knob in central Utah provides evidence of thrust ramp nucleation in competent units, and fault propagation upward and downward into weaker units at both fault tips. We investigate the effects of mechanical stratigraphy on stress heterogeneity, rupture direction, fold formation, and fault geometry motivated by the geometry of the Ketobe Knob thrust fault in central Utah; the finite element modeling examines how mechanical stratigraphy, load conditions, and fault configurations influence temporal and spatial variation in stress and strain. Our modeling focuses on the predicted deformation and stress distributions in four model domains: (1) an intact, mechanically stratified rock sequence, (2) a mechanically stratified section with a range of interlayer frictional strengths, and two faulted models, (3) one with a stress loading condition, and (4) one with a displacement loading condition. The models show that early stress increase in competent rock layers are accompanied by low stresses in the weaker rocks. The frictional models reveal that the heterogeneous stress variations increase contact frictional strength. Faulted models with a 20° dipping fault in the most competent unit result in stress increases above and below fault tips, with extremely high stresses predicted in a ‘back thrust’ location at the lower fault tip. These findings support the hypothesis that thrust faults and associated folds at the Ketobe Knob developed in accordance with a ramp-first kinematic model and development of structures was significantly influenced by the nature of the mechanical stratigraphy.

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