The inception and early evolution of the north Alpine foreland basin, Switzerland

Philip A. Allen, Sarah L. Crampton, Hugh D. Sinclair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The stratigraphy of the Eocene-Miocene peripheral foreland basin in Switzerland consists of basal deposits of Nummulitic Limestones and Globigerina Marls representing a phase of deepening, followed by two shallowing-up megacycles culminating in fully continental sedimentation. The onset of sedimentation was diachronous and took place on an unconformity surface with increasing stratigraphic gap to the north and west. In the Ultrahelvetic units, which were derived from the south and have a provenance between the Helvetic shelf and the Penninic ocean, the stratigraphic gap is minimal. This restricts the initiation of erosion of the southern European margin due to emersion to post-Maastrichtian and pre-late Palaeocene. This coincides with the final closing of the Valais trough and may therefore be interpreted as the point at which continental flexure ss. started. In the autochthon, the subcrop map of the unconformity surface shows that the regional pattern of subcropping units is oblique to both neo-Alpine tectonic structures and Helvetic (Mesozoic) passive margin structures. There are local zones of disruption to the broad regional pattern suggesting that the basal unconformity was corrugated. Both the paliaspastic restoration of the autochthon relative to the thrust front during the Palaeocene, and the regional pattern of erosion indicate that the basal unconformity may be due to erosion of a flexural forebulge. Following deposition of the shallow water Nummulitic Limestones and the deeper water Globigerina Marls, clastic sediments were shed from the orogenic wedge in the south. These turbidites, the Taveyannaz Sandstones, filled both ponded basins at the contemporaneous thrust front and the frontal trench or foredeep. Evidently, early thrusts drove at a shallow level into the embryonic basin as 'front-runners', whereas most shortening and uplift continued to take place within the main part of the orogenic wedge further to the south. Eventually, the frontal palaeohighs, together with the turbidite basins, were buried by the northward emplacement of surface mud-slides, and sediment depocentres were translated northwards onto the foreland. The most likely cause of the underfilled 'Flysch' stage is the rapid advance of a submarine thrust wedge over the flexed European plate which resulted in (i) low sediment fluxes and (ii) high subsidence rates associated with the rapid migration of the load and depocentre. Later, as the rate of advance slowed and the wedge became subaerially exposed, the basin rapidly filled with coarse-grained detritus representing the 'Molasse' stage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-163
Number of pages21
JournalBasin Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1991


Dive into the research topics of 'The inception and early evolution of the north Alpine foreland basin, Switzerland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this