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Breakup of Pangea and the Cretaceous Revolution
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  • Xavier T Le Pichon,
  • A.M. Celâl Şengör,
  • Mark Jellinek,
  • Adrian Lenardic,
  • Caner Imren
Xavier T Le Pichon
Collège de France

Corresponding Author:xavier.lepichon@academie-sciences.fr

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A.M. Celâl Şengör
Istanbul Technical University
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Mark Jellinek
University of British Columbia
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Adrian Lenardic
Rice University
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Caner Imren
Istanbul Technical University
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250 Ma, Pangea had just reached an equatorial position of dynamic equilibrium, after a 60° northward migration due to True Polar Wandering. It then began oscillating about itself for the next 150 Myr. The resulting extensional stresses triggered three successive phases of breakup, controlled by the mechanical resistance of a crescent of thick lithosphere, surrounding the Tethyan realm, which had adjusted the supercontinent to its hemispheric shape. The fracturing of the crescent was produced in three successive generations, each new generation corresponding to Coulomb fractures, conjugates of the preceding set. Flood basalts were associated with these deep fractures within the thick lithosphere crescent. We consider unlikely that this highly ordered pattern of fracturing was determined by the locations of the impacts of successive plumes. Between 260 and 180 Ma, thermal isolation was maximal and the asthenosphere of Pangea was about 150°C warmer than below Panthalassa. From 180 to 100 Ma, the breakup elongated Pangea by about 3 000 km in a NNW-SSE direction, producing gaps in the subduction girdle. Lateral mixing began, leading to a continuous rise in global sea level and progressive return to a globally homogeneous upper mantle with sea-level at its maximum 100 Ma. This Cretaceous Revolution marked the end of the Pangea tectonics, radically different from our present plate tectonics. Neither post-Cretaceous plate kinematic inferences, nor mantle dynamic and associated planetary cooling inferences are extendable to Pangea times.