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Fifty years of the Wilson Cycle concept in plate tectonics : an overview.

Wilson, R. W. and Houseman, G. A. and Buiter, S. J. H. and McCaffrey, K. J. W. and Doré, A. G. (2019) 'Fifty years of the Wilson Cycle concept in plate tectonics : an overview.', Geological Society, London, special publications., 470 (1). pp. 1-17.


It is now more than 50 years since Tuzo Wilson published his paper asking ‘Did the Atlantic close and then re-open?’. This led to the ‘Wilson Cycle’ concept in which the repeated opening and closing of ocean basins along old orogenic belts is a key process in the assembly and breakup of supercontinents. This implied that the processes of rifting and mountain building somehow pre-conditioned and weakened the lithosphere in these regions, making them susceptible to strain localization during future deformation episodes. Here we provide a retrospective look at the development of the concept, how it has evolved over the past five decades, current thinking and future focus areas. The Wilson Cycle has proved enormously important to the theory and practice of geology and underlies much of what we know about the geological evolution of the Earth and its lithosphere. The concept will no doubt continue to be developed as we gain more understanding of the physical processes that control mantle convection and plate tectonics, and as more data become available from currently less accessible regions.

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Publisher statement:© 2019 The Author(s). This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( Published by The Geological Society of London. Publishing disclaimer:
Date accepted:16 May 2019
Date deposited:04 November 2019
Date of first online publication:25 July 2019
Date first made open access:04 November 2019

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