Multichannel seismic data and gravity data have been used to construct crustal thickness profiles for three transects (eastern, central, western) across the rifted northern margin of the South China Sea. The present-day crustal configuration of the margin is then interpreted by modeling the effects of two end-member classes of extension processes, pure shear and simple shear. The applicability of each of these processes to the extension of the south China margin has been evaluated by comparing model predictions of subsidence and beat flow with observations across the margin. Neither of these end-member models satisfactorily fits the observed data on the eastern and central transects across the south China margin when typical values for standard input parameters are used; the resulting heat flow is significantly underestimated by both models. In the case of a pure shear model, heat flow observations may be matched either by assuming an uncommonly thin initial steady state lithospheric thickness (similar to 60 km) or by assuming an unusually large crustal radiogenic heat production within the original, unextended continental crust. A perhaps more reasonable alternative scenario presumes the existence of an initially slightly thinner than ''normal'' steady state lithosphere (thicknesses of similar to 90-100 km) in conjunction with a significant amount of upper crustal radiogenic heat production. Such heat production could be accommodated by the presence of Cretaceous granitic bodies (hypothesized) within the basement beneath the south China margin. In the case of a simple shear model, however, the observed high heat flow on the rifted south China margin may only be matched if the steady state lithospheric thickness is assumed to be uncommonly thin (similar to 60 km). Because the observed geophysical data characterizing lithospheric extension may be matched using more realistic input parameters in the pure shear case, pure shear extension is preferred over simple shear extension as the dominant mechanism for explaining the large-scale rifting of the south China margin. For extension within the crust, however, combinations of both processes are not only possible, but probable, given published seismic evidence for through-going crustal faults on the south China margin.
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