We focus on the Iberian-European plate boundary (IEPB), whose nature, age, and evolution are strongly debated. In contrast to previous interpretations of the IEPB as a major lithospheric-scale left-lateral strike-slip fault, we propose a more complex deformation history. The mapping of rift domains at the transition between Iberia and Europe emphasizes the existence of spatially disconnected rift systems. Based on their restoration, we suggest that the deformation was partitioned between a set of distinct left-lateral transtensional rift systems from the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous. A plate kinematic reorganization at Aptian-Albian time resulted in the onset of sea-floor spreading in the western Bay of Biscay and extreme crustal and lithosphere thinning in intra-continental rift basins to the east. The formation and reactivation of the IEPB is interpreted as the result of the polyphase evolution of a diffuse transient plate boundary that failed to localize. The results of this work may provide new insights on (1) processes preceding breakup and the initiation of segmented and strongly oblique shear margins, (2) the deformation history of nascent divergent plate boundaries, and (3) the kinematics of the southern North Atlantic and Alpine domain in western Europe.
- Received 12 July 2014.
- Revision received 6 October 2014.
- Accepted 11 October 2014.
- © 2014 Geological Society of America