The numerical sandbox: Comparison of model results for a shortening and an extension experiment

Susanne J.H. Buiter, Andrey Yu Babeyko, Susan Ellis, Taras V. Gerya, Boris J.P. Kaus, Antje Kellner, Guido Schreurs, Yasuhiro Yamada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Citations (Scopus)


We report results of a study comparing numerical models of sandbox-type experiments. Two experimental designs were examined: (1) A brittle shortening experiment in which a thrust wedge is built in material of alternating frictional strength; and (2) an extension experiment in which a weak, basal viscous layer affects normal fault localization and propagation in overlying brittle materials. Eight different numerical codes, both commercial and academic, were tested against each other. Our results show that: (1) The overall evolution of all numerical codes is broadly similar. (2) Shortening is accommodated by in-sequence forward propagation of thrusts. The surface slope of the thrust wedge is within the stable field predicted by critical taper theory. (3) Details of thrust spacing, dip angle and number of thrusts vary between different codes for the shortening experiment. (4) Shear zones initiate at the velocity discontinuity in the extension experiment. The asymmetric evolution of the models is similar for all numerical codes. (5) Resolution affects strain localization and the number of shear zones that develop in strain-softening brittle material. (6) The variability between numerical codes is greater for the shortening than the extension experiment. Comparison to equivalent analogue experiments shows that the overall dynamic evolution of the numerical and analogue models is similar, in spite of the difficulty of achieving an exact representation of the analogue conditions with a numerical model. We find that the degree of variability between individual numerical results is about the same as between individual analogue models. Differences among and between numerical and analogue results are found in predictions of location, spacing and dip angle of shear zones. Our results show that numerical models using different solution techniques can to first order successfully reproduce structures observed in analogue sandbox experiments. The comparisons serve to highlight robust features in tectonic modelling of thrust wedges and brittle-viscous extension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-64
Number of pages36
JournalGeological Society Special Publication
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ocean Engineering
  • Geology


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