Lateral ramps are zones where decollements change stratigraphic level along strike; they differ from frontal ramps, which are zones where decollements change stratigraphic level perpendicular to strike. In the Appalachian Mountains, the surface criteria for recognizing the subsurface presence of lateral ramps include (1) an abrupt change in wavelength or a termination of folds along strike, (2) a conspicuous change in the frequency of mapped faults or disturbed zones (extremely disrupted duplexes) at the surface, (3) long, straight river trends emerging onto the coastal plain or into the Appalachian Plateaus province, (4) major geomorphic discontinuities in the trend of the Blue Ridge province, (5) interruption of Mesozoic basins by cross-strike border faults, and (6) zones of modern and probable ancient seismic activity. Additional features related to lateral ramps include tectonic windows, cross-strike igneous intrusions, areas of giant landslides, and abrupt changes in Paleozoic sedimentation along strike.
Proprietary strike-line seismic-reflection profiles cross three of the lateral ramps that were identified by using the surface criteria. The profiles confirm their presence and show their detailed nature in the subsurface.
Like frontal ramps, lateral ramps are one of two possible consequences of fold-and-thrust-belt tectonics and are common elements in the Appalachian fold-and-thrust belt. A survey of other thrust belts in the United States and elsewhere strongly suggests that lateral ramps at depth can be identified by their surface effects.
Lateral ramps probably are the result of thrust sheet motion caused by continued activation of ancient cratonic fracture systems. Such fractures localized the transform faults along which the continental segments adjusted during episodes of sea-floor spreading.
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USGS Numbered Series
Lateral ramps in the folded Appalachians and in overthrust belts worldwide; a fundamental element of thrust-belt architecture