Geological Magazine

Deformation migration in an orogen-scale shear zone array: an example from the Basal Briançonnais Thrust, internal Franco-Italian Alps

S. R. FREEMAN a1c1, R. W. H. BUTLER a1, R. A. CLIFF a1, S. INGER a1 and A. C. BARNICOAT a1
a1 Department of Earth Sciences, Leeds University, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK


Combined structural, geochemical and isotopic studies have allowed an understanding of the timing and nature of an orogen-scale fault array. The results indicate that the deformation loci within the internal western Alps, during the Alpine collision, occurred as a foreland propagating thrust sequence. The east to west deformation migration within the internal zones is apparently in-sequence in relation to the external zones. Rb–Sr white mica dating of syn-kinematic greenschist-facies mineral assemblages from the Basal Briançonnais Thrust indicate that thrusting ceased between 27 and 32 Ma, several million years after shearing in the hinterland and several million years prior to shearing in the foreland. The Briançonnais Domain, which constitutes the hanging wall to the Basal Briançonnais Thrust, preserves two major shearing episodes. The first, with a top-to-the-northwest overshear, has been tentatively dated at 45 Ma. The second, a very pervasive, east–west orientated, greenschist-facies event was previously dated at 34 Ma on the hinterland margin of the Briançonnais Domain and has now been dated at 27–32 Ma on the foreland margin of the Briançonnais Domain. The period between 34 and 27 Ma apparently dates the migration of deformation through the relict European passive margin, represented by the Briançonnais Domain. This is believed to be in response to overthrusting of Adria/Africa and its associated subduction complex. Structural mapping indicates that the present Basal Briançonnais Thrust in the Col du Petit St Bernard region, Franco-Italian Alps, is a break-back thrust which cuts through an already imbricated pile. Geochronological evidence suggests that the early imbrication of the Briançonnais stratigraphy occurred prior to full interaction of the European and Adria/African plates, that is, during subduction, docking and escape from the subduction complex under Adria. Therefore, although the present Basal Briançonnais Thrust is a break-back thrust in terms of local structural geometries, it is an in-sequence foreland-propagating structure. Geochronological, micro-structural and micro-chemical data indicate that the Briançonnais Domain in the Col du Petit St Bernard zone is formed from granitoid material which intruded and cooled at approximately 320 Ma. During the Alpine event, deformation and metamorphism were insufficient to affect the Sr isotopic system. This suggests that this portion of the Briançonnais Domain was probably subducted to much shallower depths and underwent much less pervasive deformation than the other internal European basement material.

(Received February 6 1997)
(Accepted September 9 1997)

c1 Author for correspondence: