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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 01 Mar 2019

Research article | 01 Mar 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Solid Earth (SE).

Deciphering tectonic, eustatic and surface controls on the 20 Ma-old Burdigalian transgression recorded in the Upper Marine Molasse in Switzerland

Philippos Garefalakis and Fritz Schlunegger Philippos Garefalakis and Fritz Schlunegger
  • Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Bern, Bern, CH-3012, Switzerland

Abstract. The stratigraphic architecture of the Swiss Molasse basin reveals crucial information about the basin’s geometry, its evolution and the processes leading to the deposition of the clastic material. Nevertheless, the formation of the Upper Marine Molasse (OMM) and the controls on the related Burdigalian transgression are not fully understood yet. During these times, from c. 20 to 17 Ma, the Swiss Molasse basin was partly flooded by a peripheral shallow marine sea, striking SW – NE. We proceeded through detailed sedimentological and stratigraphic examinations of several sites across the entire Swiss Molasse basin in order to deconvolve the stratigraphic signals related surface and tectonic controls. Surface-related signals include stratigraphic responses to changes in eustatic sea level and sediment fluxes, while the focus on crustal-scale processes lies on the uplift of the Aar-massif at c. 20 Ma.

Field examinations show, that the evolution of the Burdigalian seaway was characterized by (i) shifts in the depositional settings, (ii) changes in discharge directions, a deepening and widening of the basin, and (iv) phases of erosion and non-deposition. We relate these changes in the stratigraphic records to a combination of surface and tectonic controls at various scales. In particular, roll-back subduction of the European mantle lithosphere, delamination of crustal material and the associated rise of the Aar-massif most likely explain the widening of the basin particular at distal sites. In addition, the uplift of the Aar-massif was likely to have shifted the patterns of surface loads. These mechanisms could have caused a flexural adjustment of the foreland plate underneath the Molasse basin, which we use as mechanism to explain the establishment of distinct depositional environments and particularly the formation of subtidal-shoals where a lateral bulge is expected. In the Alpine hinterland, these processes occurred simultaneously with a period of fast tectonic exhumation accomplished through slip along the Simplon detachment fault, with the consequence that sediment flux to the basin decreased. It is possible that this reduction in sediment supply contributed to the establishment of marine conditions in the Swiss Molasse basin and thus amplified the effect related to the tectonically controlled widening of the basin. Because of the formation of shallow marine conditions, subtle changes in the eustatic sea level contributed to the occurrence several hiatus that chronicle periods of erosion and non-sedimentation. While these mechanisms are capable of explaining the establishment of the Burdigalian seaway and the formation of distinct sedimentological niches in the Swiss Molasse basin, the drainage reversal during OMM-times possibly requires a change in the tectonic processes at the slab scale.

We conclude that sedimentological records can be used to decipher surface controls and lithospheric-scale processes in orogens from the stratigraphic record, provided that a detailed sedimentological and chronological database is available.

Philippos Garefalakis and Fritz Schlunegger
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Philippos Garefalakis and Fritz Schlunegger
Philippos Garefalakis and Fritz Schlunegger
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