Implications regarding spatially complex continental rifting, crustal extension, and the subsequent evolution to seafloor spreading are re-examined for the northern and southern-rifted margins of the South China Sea. Previous seismic studies have shown dramatic differences in the present-day crustal thicknesses as the manifestations of the strain experienced during the rifting of the margin of south China. Although the total crustal extension is presumed to be the same along the margin and adjacent ocean basin, the amount of continental crustal extension that occurred is much less along the east and central segments of the margin than along the western segment. This difference was accommodated by the early formation of oceanic crust (creating the present-day South China Sea basin) adjacent to the eastern margin segment while continued extension of continental crust was sustained to the west. Using the observed cross-sectional areas of extended continental crust derived from deep penetration seismics, two end-member models of varying rift zone widths and varying initial crustal thicknesses are qualitatively examined for three transects. Each model implies a time difference in the initiation of seafloor spreading inferred for different segments along the margin. The two models examined predict that the oceanic crust of the South China Sea basin toward the west did not begin forming until sometime between 6-12 my after its initial formation (???32 Ma) toward the east. These results are compatible with crustal age interpretations of marine magnetic anomalies. Assuming rifting symmetry with conjugate margin segments now residing along the southern portions of the South China Sea basin implies that the total width of the zone of rifting in the west was greater than in the east by about a factor of two. We suggest the most likely causes of the rifting differences were east-west variations in the rheology of the pre-rift crust and associated east-west variations in the thermal structure of the pre-rift lithosphere. The calculated widths of rifted continental crust for the northern and southern margins, when combined with the differential widths of seafloor generated during the seafloor spreading phase, indicate the total crustal extension that occurred is about 1100 km and is remarkably consistent to within ???10% for all three (eastern, central, western) segments examined. ?? 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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The South China sea margins: Implications for rifting contrasts