Published in the Journal of the Geological Society (London) 153(3), p. 389-402, 1996

Active tectonism in the intracontinental Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco :  Synchronous crustal shortening and extension

Francisco Gomez, Muawia Barazangi
Institute for the Study of the Continents and Department of Geological Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, Snee Hall, New York  14853

Mohammed Bensaid
Direction de la Geologie, Ministere de L'Energie et des Mines, Agdal-Instituts, B.P. 6208, Rabat, Morocco

    Geological field observations are integrated with digital topography, LANDSAT imagery, and earthquake focal mechanisms to investigate the Middle and Late Quaternary tectonism in the intracontinental Middle Atlas mountain belt in northern Morocco.  The NE/SW-trending Middle Atlas Mountains, approximately 80 km in width and about 200 km long, are part of the Atlas system of northwestern Africa and represent an inverted rift that developed into an intracratonic mountain system in the foreland of the Alpine collisional zone.  The Middle Atlas is composed of two provinces, the Folded and Tabular Middle Atlas, representing the palaeo-rift and a flank of the palaeo-rift, respectively.  Evidence for Late Quaternary tectonism is provided by the analysis of stream morphology in addition to geological relations.  Kinematic analysis of fault-slip data and earthquake focal mechanisms demonstrate the coexistence of both extensional and compressional deformation in different areas of the Middle Atlas with a common sinistral component of slip along NE/SW-striking fault zones.  The compressional features dominate the Folded Middle Atlas, whereas the extension predominates in the Tabular Middle Atlas.  Extension is also manifested by widespread Middle to Late Quaternary alkali volcanism.  The observed kinematic variations appear to correlate with the Mesozoic palaeogeography; one possible model may involve tectonic escape.  This suggests that differences in the structures inherited from the Mesozoic and Palaeozoic may influence the responses of the different regions to the Cenozoic Alpine collision between Europe and northwest Africa.