Swiss Journal of Geosciences

, Volume 107, Issue 2–3, pp 309–336 | Cite as

The tectonometamorphic evolution of the Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes (internal Western Alps): review and synthesis

  • Paola Manzotti
  • Michel Ballèvre
  • Michele Zucali
  • Martin Robyr
  • Martin Engi
Article

Abstract

This study reviews and synthesizes the present knowledge on the Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes, the highest tectonic elements in the Western Alps (Switzerland and Italy), which comprise pieces of pre-Alpine basement and Mesozoic cover. All of the available data are integrated in a crustal-scale kinematic model with the aim to reconstruct the Alpine tectono-metamorphic evolution of the Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes. Although major uncertainties remain in the pre-Alpine geometry, the basement and cover sequences of the Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes are seen as part of a thinned continental crust derived from the Adriatic margin. The earliest stages of the Alpine evolution are interpreted as recording late Cretaceous subduction of the Adria-derived Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes below the South-Alpine domain. During this subduction, several sheets of crustal material were stacked and separated by shear zones that rework remnants of their Mesozoic cover. The recently described Roisan-Cignana Shear Zone of the Dent Blanche Tectonic System represents such a shear zone, indicating that the Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes represent a stack of several individual nappes. During the subsequent subduction of the Piemonte–Liguria Ocean large-scale folding of the nappe stack (including the Roisan-Cignana Shear Zone) took place under greenschist facies conditions, which indicates partial exhumation of the Dent Blanche Tectonic System. The entrance of the Briançonnais micro-continent within the subduction zone led to a drastic change in the deformation pattern of the Alpine belt, with rapid exhumation of the eclogite-facies ophiolite-bearing units and thrust propagation towards the foreland. Slab breakoff probably was responsible for allowing partial melting in the mantle and Oligocene intrusions into the most internal parts of the Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes. Finally, indentation of the Adriatic plate into the orogenic wedge resulted in the formation of the Vanzone back-fold, which marks the end of the pervasive ductile deformation within the Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes during the earliest Miocene.

Keywords

Dent Blanche Tectonic System Subduction Tectonic erosion Switzerland Italy Austroalpine 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work was financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Project 200020-126946). We gratefully acknowledge discussions with Riccardo Bersezio, Giorgio Vittorio Dal Piaz, Guido Gosso, and Daniele Regis. The comments and suggestions of the reviewer, Roberto Compagnoni, have been very helpful. Particularly warm thanks are due to Stefan Schmid, the handling editor of this contribution: his perceptive critique has contributed enormously and has forced us to sharpen the focus and conclusions of this paper. Last but not least, the editorial efforts of A. G. Milnes are greatly appreciated.

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Copyright information

© Swiss Geological Society 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paola Manzotti
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michel Ballèvre
    • 2
  • Michele Zucali
    • 3
    • 4
  • Martin Robyr
    • 1
  • Martin Engi
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Geological SciencesUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Géosciences Rennes, UMR 6118CNRSUniversité Rennes1RennesFrance
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra “Ardito Desio”Università degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly
  4. 4.CNR-IDPA-Sezione di MilanoMilanItaly

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