Basement-cover tectonics, structural inheritance, and deformation migration in the outer parts of orogenic belts: A view from the western Alps

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The structure and geology of former rifted continental margins can exert significant influence on their subsequent incorporation into collisional orogens. While thinned continental crust attached to the subducting mantle lithosphere may be incorporated into subduction channels, the weakly rifted parts of the margin are likely to resist subduction and thus deform ahead of the main orogenic front. This expectation is corroborated by a case study from the external western Alps. The former Dauphinois basins have inverted to form external basement massifs. Much of the deformation was widely distributed, with few localized thrust structures. Existing models that invoke distinct deformation events separated in time by a major (late Eocene, “Nummulitic”) unconformity are abandoned here in favor of crustal shortening that was continuous in time. Integrated stratigraphic, paleothermal, and geochronological
data reveal that basin inversion was protracted over 6–10 m.y., coeval with deformation in the more internal parts of the chain. The notion of continuous, rather than episodic, deformation raises issues for the ways in which rates and tectonic activity may be evaluated within ancient orogens.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLinkages and Feedbacks in Orogenic Systems
EditorsR. D. Law, J. R. Thigpen, A. J. Merschat, H. H. Stowell
PublisherGeological Society of America
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780813712130
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2017

Publication series

NameGSA Memoirs
PublisherThe Geological Society of America
ISSN (Print)0072-1069

Bibliographical note

The account presented here is based on many years of Alpine research by the author and numerous discussions with individuals on Alpine and other tectonics. I especially thank Bill McCaffrey and others within the Leeds Turbidites Research Group for initiating me in the ways of deep-marine clastic sedimentology. Mark Cooper and Steve Matthews are thanked for their acute comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. I also thank Editor Rick Law for his patience with this manuscript.


  • tectonic inversion
  • Alps
  • foredeep
  • basement deformation


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