International Journal of Earth Sciences

, Volume 96, Issue 6, pp 979–1002 | Cite as

Graben width controlling syn-rift sedimentation: the Palaeogene southern Upper Rhine Graben as an example

  • Sebastian HinskenEmail author
  • Kamil Ustaszewski
  • Andreas Wetzel
Original Paper


Eocene to Early Oligocene syn-rift deposits of the southern Upper Rhine Graben (URG) accumulated in restricted environments. Sedimentation was controlled by local clastic supply from the graben flanks, as well as by strong intra-basinal variations in accommodation space due to differential tectonic subsidence, that in turn led to pronounced lateral variations in depositional environment. Three large-scale cycles of intensified evaporite sedimentation were interrupted by temporary changes towards brackish or freshwater conditions. They form three major base level cycles that can be traced throughout the basin, each of them representing a stratigraphic sub-unit. A relatively constant amount of horizontal extension (ΔL) in the range of 4–5 km has been estimated for the URG from numerous cross-sections. The width of the rift (L f ), however, varies between 35 and more than 60 km, resulting in a variable crustal stretching factor between the bounding masterfaults. Apart from block tilting, tectonic subsidence was, therefore, largely controlled by changes in the initial rift width (L 0). The along-strike variations of the graben width are responsible for the development of a deep, trough-like evaporite basin (Potash Basin) in the narrowest part of the southern URG, adjacent to shallow areas in the wider parts of the rift such as the Colmar Swell in the north and the Rhine Bresse Transfer Zone that delimits the URG to the south. Under a constant amount of extension, the along-strike variation in rift width is the principal factor controlling depo-centre development in extensional basins.


Upper Rhine Graben Syn-rift sedimentation Genetic stratigraphy Crustal extension Stretching factor 



This work was performed under the umbrella of the EUCOR-URGENT-PROJECT ( We wish to thank Philippe Elsass (BRGM Strasbourg) and Peter Huggenberger (Basel) for providing access to unpublished well data. We are grateful to Peter Ziegler (Basel) and Daniel Bernoulli (Basel) for carefully reading the manuscript, and to our colleagues Stefan Schmid, Markus Schumacher, Pierre Dèzes, Horst Dresmann, James McKenzie, Achim Stucky and Silvio Lauer (all at Basel) for helpful discussions and/or for technical support. Constructive comments by Jan-Diederik van Wees (Utrecht) and Gerhard Greiner (Berlin) helped to improve the manuscript.


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© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sebastian Hinsken
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kamil Ustaszewski
    • 1
  • Andreas Wetzel
    • 1
  1. 1.Geologisch-Paläontologisches InstitutUniversität BaselBaselSwitzerland

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