, Volume 87, Issue 4, pp 633-643

Geochemical evidence for the nature of the crust beneath the eastern North Penninic basin of the Mesozoic Tethys ocean

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Abstract

The North Penninic basin was a subbasin in the northern part of the Mesozoic Tethys ocean. Its significance within the framework of this ocean is controversial because it is not clear whether it was underlain by thinned continental or oceanic crust. Remnants of the eastern North Penninic basin are preserved in the Alps of eastern Switzerland (Grisons) as low metamorphic "Bündnerschiefer" sediments and associated basaltic rocks which formed approximately 140–170 Ma ago (Misox Bündnerschiefer zone, Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous). Nb/U, Zr/Nb, and Y/Nb ratios, as well as Nd–Sr isotopic and REE data of most of the metabasalts point to a depleted MORB-type mantle origin. They have been contaminated by magmatic assimilation of Bündnerschiefer sediments and by exchange with seawater, but do not prove the existence of a subcontinental lithospheric mantle or continental crust beneath the North Penninic basin. This suggests that the studied part of the North Penninic realm was underlain by oceanic crust. Only the metabasalts from two melange zones (Vals and Grava melanges) show a more important contamination by crustal material. Since this type of contamination cannot be observed in the other tectonic units, we suggest that its occurrence is related to melange formation during the subduction of the North Penninic basin in the Tertiary. The North Penninic basin was probably, despite the occurrence of oceanic crust, smaller than the South Penninic ocean where the presence of oceanic crust is well established. Modern analogues for the North Penninic basin could be the transitional zone of the Red Sea or the pull-apart basins of the southernmost Gulf of California where local patches of oceanic crust with effusive volcanism have been described.

Received: 2 February 1998 / Accepted: 2 November 1998