Reverse modelling of geological structures using synthetic and field examples

Most geological structures, such as fold and thrust belts, are the result of millions of years of deformation. Whereas we are now able to model such processes forward in time (at least in 2D), it is not possible to exactly reproduce observed structures predominantly because material parameters are uncertain. A different approach, which is called reverse modelling, is to start with the observed geometry and model it backwards in time until we reproduce a reasonable initial situation (which in geology typically implies that layers are horizontal). In the past, this approach was demonstrated to work for density driven instabilities (Kaus and Podladchikov, 2001) and folding-dominated structures (Lechmann et al. 2010). If correct material parameters are used, one can indeed reverse the deformation, but if incorrect parameter are employed, the layers do not become flat. Whereas this is promising, it remains unclear whether it will also work for plastic or brittle deformation structures, which form the majority of the upper Earth’s crust. Here we will test this and, if successful, combine it with a Monte Carlo inversion approach to infer the optimal model parameters.