Geophysical Constraints on the Location and Nature of the North Saharan Flexure in Southern Tunisia


Gravity data, integrated with seismic refraction/reflection data, well data and geological investigations, were used to determine the location of the paleogeographic boundary between the Precambrian Saharan domain and the younger Tunisian Atlas domain. This boundary (North Saharan Flexure or NSF) has not been as clearly defined as it has been to the west in Algeria and Morocco. The gravity data analysis, which included the construction of complete Bouguer and residual gravity anomaly maps, revealed that the Atlasic domain is characterized by relative negative gravity anomalies and numerous linear gravity trends implying a thick and deformed sediment cover. The Saharan domain is characterized by relatively positive gravity anomalies with few gravity trends implying a thin and relatively undeformed sediment cover. An edge-enhancement analysis of the residual gravity anomalies revealed that the NSF is characterized by a series of discontinuous east- and northwest-trending linear anomalies south of 34°N that are not related to the well-known faults within the Gafsa and Accident de Medenine regions. Based on the continuity of the amplitudes of seismic reflection data and the trends of the residual gravity anomalies, the NSF is not an abrupt discontinuity but a series of step faults dipping toward the Atlasic domain. To obtain a more quantitative representation of the southern edge of Tunisian Atlas, a regional gravity model constrained by two wells and seismic reflection/refraction data was constructed along a north-south trending profile which confirms the presence of thicker sediments north of the NSF. Our analysis shows that the NSF has controlled the depositional environment of the sedimentary rocks within the region since at least Triassic time and has acted as a barrier to Atlasic deformation south of the NSF. The NSF is considered an important tectonic feature that has controlled the paleogeographic evolution of the southern margin of the Tethys Ocean, and it continues to be active today based on seismicity hazard studies.


Geography, Geology, and Planning

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gravity anomalies, North Africa, Tunisia, Sahara, flexure, Saharan platform, Tunisian Atlas, North Saharan Flexure, Bouguer gravity

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Journal Title

Pure and Applied Geophysics