We use wet-clay analogue models to investigate how pre-existing discontinuities (i.e. structures inherited from previous tectonic phases) affect the evolution of a normal fault at the Earth's surface. To this end we first perform a series of three reference experiments driven by a 45° dipping master fault unaffected by pre-existing discontinuities to generate a mechanically isotropic learning set of models. We then replicate the experiment six times introducing a 60°-dipping precut in the clay cake, each time with a different attitude and orientation with respect to an initially-blind, 45°-dipping, master normal fault. In all experiments the precut intersects the vertical projection of the master fault halfway between the center and the right-hand lateral tip. All other conditions are identical for all seven models. By comparing the results obtained from the mechanically isotropic experiments with results from experiments with precuts we find that the surface evolution of the normal fault varies depending on the precut orientation. In most cases the parameters of newly-forming faults are strongly influenced. The largest influence is exerted by synthetic and antithetic discontinuities trending respectively at 30° and 45° from the strike of the master fault, whereas a synthetic discontinuity at 60° and an antithetic discontinuity at 30° show moderate influence. Little influence is exerted by a synthetic discontinuity at 45° and an antithetic discontinuity at 60° from the strike of the master fault. We provide a ranking chart to assess fault-to-discontinuity interactions with respect to essential surface fault descriptors, such as segmentation, vertical-displacement profile, maximum displacement, and length, often used as proxies to infer fault properties at depth. Considering a single descriptor, the amount of deviation induced by different precuts varies from case to case in a rather unpredictable fashion. Multiple observables should be taken into consideration when analyzing normal faults evolving next to pre-existing discontinuities
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