Polyphase tectonic subsidence evolution of the Vienna Basin inferred from quantitative subsidence analysis of the northern and central parts
The Vienna Basin is a tectonically complex Neogene basin situated at the Alpine–Carpathian transition. This study analyzes a detailed quantification of subsidence in the northern and central parts of the Vienna Basin to understand its tectonic subsidence evolution. About 200 wells were used to arrange stratigraphic setting, and wells reaching the pre-Neogene basement were analyzed for subsidence. To enhance the understanding of the regional subsidences, the wells were sorted into ten groups based on their position on major fault blocks. In the Early Miocene, subsidence was slow and along E–W to NE–SW trending axis, indicating the development of thrust-controlled piggyback basins. During the late Early Miocene data show abruptly increasing subsidence, making the initiation of the Vienna pull-apart basin system. From the Middle Miocene, the tectonic subsidence curves show regionally different patterns. The tectonic subsidence during the Middle Miocene varies laterally across the Vienna Basin, and the differential subsidence can be related to the changing tensional regime of weakening transtension and strengthening extension toward the late Middle Miocene. From the late Middle Miocene to the Late Miocene, the tectonic subsidence occurred dominantly along the regional active faults, and corresponds to the axis of E–W trending extension of the western parts of the Pannonian Basin system. In the Quaternary the Vienna Basin has been reactivated, and resulted in subsidence along the NE–SW trending Vienna Basin transfer fault system.
KeywordsVienna Basin Pull-apart basin Piggyback basin Subsidence Polyphase basin evolution Pannonian basin system
The basin has been studied intensively starting with classical paleontological–stratigraphical papers and then continuing since the beginning of hydrocarbon exploration at about 100 years ago. Studies focused mainly on the southern and central parts (Austrian part) of the basin for a variety of reasons. However, a comprehensive detailed study crossing the borders of Austria, Slovakia, and Czech Republic is still missing. The northern and central parts (Czech and Slovakian parts) are highly important to understand the overall stratigraphic and structural evolution of the basin, because these parts contain up to 6 km of the Miocene sedimentary rocks, several complex structures, and the Steinberg fault, one of the most prominent structure features of the basin (e.g., Decker 1996).
This study analyzed a more detailed regional subsidence history of the northern and central parts of the basin to understand the tectonic evolution. Furthermore, the results of this study are compared with previous studies conducted in the southern part. Several publications studied the subsidence history of the Vienna Basin (e.g., Sclater et al. 1980; Royden 1985; Lankreijer et al. 1995; Wagreich and Schmid 2002; Hölzel et al. 2008; Lee et al. 2011). However, these studies either cover the basin locally or focus more on surrounding areas with sparse well data. Compared to other publications on this topic, our study covers an extensive region of the basin and provides a more accurate analysis through the high density of considered boreholes, the geophysical evaluation for more realistic porosity–depth relations, and the mapping by employing a 2D/3D interpolation technique.
The Vienna Basin has a rhombohedral shape with the left-stepping pattern of en-echelon faults (Royden 1985). Along the western flank, the Schrattenberg–Steinberg–Bisamberg–Leopoldsdorf fault systems separated a system of depressions from the western marginal blocks (Fig. 1). Geographically, the Vienna basin is subdivided in three parts. The northern part covers the area north of the Kuty graben. The central part extends from the Kuty graben to the Schwechat depression, including the Zistersdorf depression. The southernmost part of the Vienna basin covers the area south of the Schwechat depression, including the Wiener-Neustadt basin and the Mitterndorfer depression (Lankreijer et al. 1995).
The Vienna Basin tectonic evolution has a complex history due to the position of the basin which is bordered by the Eastern Alps in the west, the Western Carpathians in the northeast, and the Pannonian Basin system in the southeast (Fig. 1). The Eastern Alps and the Western Carpathians formed by collisional orogenies during the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic (Decker and Peresson 1996; Plašienka et al. 1997; Royden 1988). The Pannonian Basin system is a result of Middle to Late Miocene lithospheric extension (Sclater et al. 1980; Royden et al. 1983a, b). The Alpine–Carpathian–Pannonian system was deformed by the late Paleogene and Neogene lateral extrusion of the Eastern Alps toward the Pannonian area in the east (Ratschbacher et al. 1991a, b). The extrusion caused complex and polyphase strike-slip faulting and back-arc-extension linked to the retreating subduction zone, and further resulted in development of Miocene pull-apart basins (e.g., Vienna Basin) and extensional rift basins (e.g., Pannonian basin) (Royden et al. 1983a, b; Royden 1985, 1988; Csontos et al. 1992; Horváth 1993; Mann et al. 1995; Decker and Peresson 1996; Huismans et al. 2001).
The Vienna Basin has been influenced by the evolution of each of these geologic systems. The basin is characterized by four distinct tectonic phases; (1) Early Miocene piggyback basin, (2) Middle–Late Miocene pull-apart basin, (3) Late Miocene–Pliocene compression and basin inversion, and (4) Quaternary basin formation (Beidinger and Decker 2011; Decker et al. 2005; Peresson and Decker 1997a, b; Salcher et al. 2012; Seifert 1992; Strauss et al. 2006). Each phase is associated with a distinctive geographic axis of subsidence.
Early Miocene piggyback basin
In the Early Miocene (c. 20–17 Ma), several E–W trending small sub-basins subsided on the frontal parts of the N- to NW-propagating thrust belt of the Eastern Alps. This basin stage was active from the Eggenburgian to the early Karpatian (Decker 1996; Fodor 1995; Jiříček and Seifert 1990; Seifert 1992, 1996). It is described as piggyback basin (wedge-top basin, Ori and Friend 1984), formed on top of active thrust sheets. Although the Eggenburgian sediments were restricted to the northern part of the Vienna Basin, during the Ottnangian and the early Karpatian the sedimentation spread to the central part (Decker 1996; Jiříček and Seifert 1990; Strauss et al. 2006).
Middle–Late Miocene pull-apart basin
At the end of the Early Miocene (c. 17–16 Ma), the Vienna Basin became a pull-apart structure (Fodor 1995; Decker 1996). Structural styles within the pull-apart were dominated by NE–SW trending sinistral strike-slip duplexes and en-echelon listric normal faults with a left-stepping geometry at the Vienna Basin transfer fault (Royden 1985, 1988; Decker et al. 2005). The main tectonic elements are the Steinberg fault (5.6 km normal offset), the Leopoldsdorf fault (4.2 km normal offset), the Laksary fault, the Farsky fault, and the Lanzhot–Hrusky fault (Čekan et al. 1990; Wessely et al. 1993; Decker et al. 2005) (Figs. 1, 6). Growth strata along normal faults indicate that faulting occurred synsedimentary during the late Early and Middle Miocene (Decker 1996). The geodynamic processes resulted in an intricate arrangement of prominent highs and partly deeper subsided depocenters (Hölzel et al. 2008), where local variations in sedimentary evolution may exist (Arzmüller et al. 2006; Strauss et al. 2006). The pull-apart basin (c. 16–8 Ma) was filled by Badenian syntectonic deposition, which was blanketed by the deposition of the Sarmatian and Pannonian successions without major depositional breaks (Arzmüller et al. 2006).
Late Miocene–Pliocene compression and basin inversion
In the latest Miocene, sinistral faulting and pull-apart subsidence halted during a major change of the regional stress field from N(NW)-directed compression to E–W-directed compression for the Vienna Basin (Decker and Peresson 1996; Peresson and Decker 1997a, b). This phase is characterized by the gradual structural inversion with an uplift of more than 200 m in the Vienna Basin, which also caused sediment deformation and erosion (Decker 1996; Strauss et al. 2006). This regime is related with anomalous late-stage vertical movements of the Pannonian and Carpathian region, caused by the isostatic rebound in the aftermath of continental convergence and slab detachment (Cloetingh et al. 2006; Horváth and Cloetingh 1996).
A number of well, seismic, and geophysical data of the northern and central parts of the Vienna Basin were acquired from the archives of the Dionyz Štur Institute, Slovakia. Data of 201 wells were arranged for this study (Fig. 1) and used for sediment distribution and isopach mapping. Among them, 90 wells reaching the pre-Neogene basement were analyzed by decompaction and backstripping techniques to gain subsidence curves and rates. Missing well data in some areas were corrected by using data from the maps of the Pre-Neogene basement and the Neogene basin fill (Čekan et al. 1990; Jiříček and Seifert 1990; Wessely et al. 1993; Arzmüller et al. 2006) and interpolated from time–depth conversion of stratigraphic boundaries within seismic reflection data. These interpolated points have been termed synthetic wells. Regional water depth variations were assumed from Sauer et al. (1992) and Seifert (1992).
Backstripping is a technique that progressively removes the sedimentary load from a basin, correcting for compaction, paleobathymetry (Wd), and sea level change (ΔSL), in order to reveal the tectonic driving mechanisms of basin subsidence (Miall 1999). Incorporating the various effects gives the Airy compensated tectonic subsidence, Y = S[(ρ m − ρ s)/(ρ m − ρ w)] + W d − Δ SL[ρ m/(ρ m − ρ w)] (S: sediments thickness, ρ w, ρ s, and ρ m: densities of water, mean sediment, and mantle) (Steckler and Watts 1978; Van Hinte 1978; Sclater and Christie 1980).
Because the geological data are scattered and sparse in temporal and spatial distribution, the data have to be interpolated by mapping techniques to show how they are distributed over the area (Monnet et al. 2003). Sediment isopach, subsidence rate, and depth mappings are an efficient way to understand stratigraphic context and subsidence trends of sedimentary basins. For the mapping, we arranged data to a set of 3D points based on their map location (x, y coordinates) and the sediment thickness, subsidence rate, and depth (z). The arranged dataset are integrated into 2D/3D models using the MATLAB®-based software BasinVis 1.0 (an open-source geological modeling software, Lee 2015; Lee et al. 2016). The smooth and interpolated surfaces are reconstructed by thin-plate spline (TPS) supported by the software, and the interpolation technique was performed in an approximately 35 × 62 km study area (Fig. 1). The reconstructed surface can be viewed as partly fuzzy and non-complete model smoothing over faults, because the chosen method cannot integrate the displacement and timing of faults completely (Lee 2015; Lee et al. 2016).
Sediment distribution and isopach mapping
During the late Karpatian, tectonic kinematics changed from a piggyback basin to a pull-apart basin (Fodor 1995; Decker and Peresson 1996; Hinsch et al. 2005), and the area of sedimentation widened far to the south (Fig. 7c). Nearly, the whole area of today’s Vienna Basin was covered with sediments and was bordered by newly formed synsedimentary faults (Jiříček and Tomek 1981; Jiříček and Seifert 1990; Fodor 1995). The major depocenters were located between the Steinberg fault and the Laksary fault and along the Láb-Leitha fault system which consists of strike-slip faults and negative flower structures activated along the southeastern margin of the basin (Kováč et al. 2004) (Fig. 6). There was no sedimentation on the northern edge rim and the Laksary horst in the study area. According to Jiříček and Seifert (1990), Baráth et al. (2003), Kováč et al. (2004), and Arzmüller et al. (2006), the northern and northeastern margins are distinctly erosive and lack preserved marginal facies by a period of nearly total regression occurred in the Vienna Basin. Due to the regression, considerable thickness of the upper Karpatian sediments is missing in the northeastern part of the basin.
During the Badenian, the Vienna Basin was dissected into several fault blocks, resulting in lower lying strongly subsiding depocenters, and higher and more stable horst blocks. The faults are related to growth strata (Fig. 6). The lower to middle Badenian sediments transgressed unconformably on various layers of the Lower Miocene and the flysch substratum in the northern area (Hamilton et al. 2000) and the sedimentation reached most of the central part (Fig. 7d). The upper Badenian sediments were distributed more widely and thicker than the lower and middle Badenian ones (Fig. 7e).
Although the Sarmatian began by regression of the sea (Fig. 2), the deposition blanketed the Badenian sequences without major depositional breaks (Fig. 6). The Sarmatian sediments covered a large part of study area with the total thickness generally varying between 200 and 600 m, and a tectonically controlled depocenter is found along the Steinberg fault (Fig. 7f).
Sedimentation during Pannonian time shows considerable similarities to the Sarmatian one. However, the depocenter in the study area was wider and deeper along the Steinberg fault and shifted slightly to the southwest (Fig. 7g). Considering uplift and erosion during the latest Pannonian and Pliocene, the Pannonian sediments would be thicker than the present-day preserved thickness.
Subsidence curves and rates of selected wells are presented in this study. The model graph shows how the results are presented for subsidence history of each group (Fig. 8b). The graphs represent the basement subsidence curves with dashed lines and the tectonic subsidence curves and rates with solid lines.
Subsidence trend and axes of the northern part
The subsidence of N1–4 started during the Eggenburgian–Ottnangian. It was rather slow and showed basement subsidence of up to 300 m. This minor subsidence aligned along the thrusts is indicating the main piggyback basin phase.
For Karpatian times, the subsidence curves document a rapid increase in both basement and tectonic subsidences (Fig. 9). The Karpatian data of wells in this group were not separated precisely between the lower and upper stages, and this made it hard to compare subsidence rates between the early and late Karpatian. In the northern part, the lower Karpatian sediments were thinner than the upper ones (Jiříček and Seifert 1990) (Fig. 7b, c). Therefore, the recorded increasing Karpatian subsidence is interpreted as a combination of minor piggyback and major pull-apart tectonics.
For the Badenian, tectonic subsidence was low and almost stationary with few notable changes (Fig. 9). During the early Badenian, wells in the northern part show only minor subsidence, because lower Badenian sediments were not reported in the region. From the late Badenian to the Sarmatian, wells of N1–4 show slightly increasing tectonic subsidence. At this time, however, the basement depth was increasing significantly without obvious tectonic effects; therefore, this high basement subsidence is interpreted as a result of significant sediment loading.
Most subsidence curves of N1–4 continued until the Pannonian; however, Gb12 in the N2 and wells in N4 stopped subsiding at the end of the Sarmatian (Fig. 9). Some wells also show decreasing tectonic subsidence during the Sarmatian–Pannonian. This study considers that this resulted from uplift and erosion by the basin inversion of the late Pannonian–Pliocene.
Subsidence trend and axes of the central part
Groups C1–4 are located broadly in the central part of the basin and comprise data from hanging wall blocks along major faults (Fig. 1b). C1 and C2 are lying on the hanging wall between the Steinberg fault and the Laksary fault. In C2, the Závod (Zv) wells are closer to the Steinberg fault and the Studienka (St) wells are located near the Laksary fault. C3 and C4 are situated near the Láb-Leitha fault system along the southeastern border of the Vienna Basin. The subsidence patterns of this group are highly dependent on the development of the major tectonic driving faults.
In the Karpatian, all areas of C1–4 show abruptly increasing basement and tectonic subsidences (Fig. 10). Although some wells of C1 and C2 already subsided considerably in the early Karpatian, overall the high subsidence was dominant during the late Karpatian. Especially, the Závod wells of C2 near the Steinberg fault subsided almost 2 km during this time interval. The Karpatian subsidence was much higher here than in the northern part of the basin, due to large displacement along the Steinberg fault and other major synsedimentary faults located in the central Vienna Basin.
After the major Karpatian subsidence pulse, C1 and the Studienka wells of C2 almost stopped subsiding with thin sedimentation during the early Badenian. However, the Závod wells of C2 and C3–4 continued the tectonic subsidence slowly during this time (Fig. 10). In the late Badenian, C1–4 show increasing tectonic subsidence more evidently than N1–4.
While C1 has a stationary tectonic subsidence pattern during the Sarmatian, which is similar with the northern part, C2–4 display continuous tectonic subsidence until the Pannonian (Fig. 10). With the exception of some wells of C2, Sarmatian and Pannonian tectonic subsidence was minor compared to the late Badenian subsidence. Since the late Badenian, the basement subsided enormously (up to 2 km). However, it was mostly affected by sediment loading, not much by tectonic effects as shown by only minor tectonic subsidence.
Subsidence trend and axes of the basement highs
The groups L1 and L2 are located each in the northern basement high and the Laksary horst (Fig. 1b). The subsidence curves of L1–2 show strong differences compared to the subsidence patterns of the other groups in this study.
The late Karpatian is a highly important time in the Vienna Basin, because the structural type of the basin changed from piggyback to the pull-apart basin by onset of transtensional tectonic movement. However, the late Karpatian and subsequent Badenian sediments are not found in the areas of L1–2. This supports the idea that the areas of L1–2 were not affected by these transtensional tectonics and, in contrast to most parts of the basin, underwent transpressional stress during the time. According to Jiříček and Tomek (1981) and Fodor (1995), in the Badenian, depocenters and subsidence moved to the south, and a significant angular discordance in the northern sedimentation area indicates uplift and deformation. The basin inversion was due to local transpressional tectonics where sinistral slip transferred toward the northeast.
Tectonic subsidence rate mapping
During the piggyback basin time, the subsidence from the Eggenburgian to the Ottnangian was slowly subsiding in E–W trending depressions (Fig. 12a), while the early Karpatian basin setting was deeper and more NE–SW trending (Fig. 12b). The NE–SW trending strike, however, is not genetically related to the Láb-Leitha strike-slip fault system. This can be related to an apparent counterclockwise rotation of the Alpine thrust front between the Eggenburgian and the Karpatian (Beidinger and Decker 2014), resulted from the eastward increase of the cumulative in-sequence thrust distance.
During the late Karpatian, the tectonic subsidence rate and pattern changed abruptly (Fig. 12c) as a result of the principal change in the basin type. The tectonic subsidence rate increased rapidly over the area except for the northern basement high and the Laksary horst. This increase is strongly related to movement along the NE–SW trending strike-slip and normal faults. The faulted areas subsided considerably, especially in the hanging wall of the Steinberg fault and along the negative flower structure of the Láb-Leitha fault system.
After this large-scale subsidence phase, the tectonic subsidence rate decreases markedly in the early Badenian (Fig. 12d). Rates decreased to zero abruptly in the northern part, whereas the central part is characterized by ongoing slower tectonic subsidence. These slow subsidence rates increased again during the late Badenian along the Steinberg fault, and the central part including the Spannberg ridge subsided widely (Fig. 12e).
During the Sarmatian, the tectonic subsidence continued and its subsiding area spread to the north along the Steinberg fault (Fig. 12f). The tectonic subsidence rate decreased again in the Pannonian, remaining weak subsidence near the two major tectonic driving faults (Fig. 12g). This subsidence corresponds to the axis of E–W trending extension found in the western parts of the Pannonian Basin system for the late Sarmatian–early Pannonian (Huismans et al. 2001). The changing tectonic regime is supported by that the transpressional area (the northern basement high; group L1) subsided again from the Sarmatian onwards (Fig. 11). Similar extension is also reported in neighboring basins—the Styrian Basin and the Danube Basin (Vass et al. 1990; Sachsenhofer et al. 1997; Kováč et al. 1999).
Quaternary basin subsidence
The small Quaternary basins are filled mainly by fluvial sediments up to 150 m thick along the Vienna Basin transfer fault (Fig. 3). Using the Quaternary sediment thickness data, this study calculated the tectonic subsidence rates of the Quaternary basins (Fig. 14). The Mitterndorf Basin located in the southern part has a tectonic subsidence rate of ~0.5 km/Ma, and other basins in the central part have the rate of ~0.3 km/Ma.
Royden (1985) interpreted the Vienna Basin as a typical example of how thin-skinned extension can create a sedimentary basin. The work stated that post-extensional (or thermal) subsidence within the basin is impossible, because the extension and the associated strike-slip faulting were restricted to shallow levels, and thus, no significant gradually decreasing thermal subsidence phase is present. Royden (1985) analyzed subsidence curves of the basin for two different cases: (1) for the northeastern part, where most of the subsidence and sedimentation is of Early Miocene age or older, and (2) for the south-central part, where most of the subsidence is of the Middle to Late Miocene age. The study, however, analyzed uncorrected subsidence curves neglecting compaction of sediments and failed to explain tectonically why subsidence happened locally in different times.
The other model by Lankreijer et al. (1995) proposed a post-rift (thermal) subsidence for the central part. According to these authors, the Vienna Basin comprises a non-uniform extensional basin changing from thin-skinned extension in the northern part to whole lithospheric extension in the central part. However, there is no major thermal anomaly arguing for backing up the lithospheric extension and the heat flow is uniformly low in the basin (Dövényi and Horváth 1988; Sachsenhofer 2001). Additionally, in such a small size basin, the coexistence of two extension types seems highly speculative. Lankreijer et al. (1995) also suggested that the deep-rooted strike-slip and normal faults reactivated preexisting fault planes (Wessely 1988; Picha 1996) which penetrated locally into the overlying thrust belt and created a new structural regime (e.g., Sanchez et al. 2015). However, there is no strong evidences yet that the major faults in the southern and central parts are connected to preexisting fault planes.
In details of the Badenian (Middle Miocene) subsidence, the high rate of the Upper Ladenid Zone observed in the southern part is missing in the rest of the Vienna Basin, and in the central and northern parts, the late Badenian subsidence rate is higher than the early Badenian (Upper Ladenid Zone) one (Fig. 14). Hölzel et al. (2008) explained this differential subsidence mainly with a paleoenvironmental effect caused by the Spannberg ridge which was uplifted at the end of the Karpatian (Hölzel et al. 2010). The ridge largely restricted sedimentation in the southern part during the Early Miocene. Consequently, only non-marine sediments are known from the southern part of the Vienna Basin during this time interval (e.g., Seifert 1996). Subsequently, the ridge was buried in the late Badenian and caused sedimentation to spread to the central part.
This study, however, supports that the regional difference of the Badenian tectonic subsidence was caused by a Badenian paleostress change. The differential Badenian tectonic subsidence observed in this study is more in accordance to Weissenbäck (1996), who showed that the synsedimentary fault activity in the basin displays a time-transgressive trend from south to north during that time. According to Fodor (1995), the Middle Miocene evolution was characterized by a combination of strike-slip (transtension) and extensional faulting rather than a pure strike-slip or pure tensional regime. Therefore, the differential subsidence can be related to the changing tensional regime of weakening transtension and strengthening extension toward the late Middle Miocene. This also means the major fault activity successively advanced toward north (from the strike-slip fault system in the south to the Steinberg fault) during the Badenian. This study supposes that the Middle Miocene tensional regime also partly caused the different tectonic subsidence trend between the northern and other parts (Figs. 13, 14). Although the Middle Miocene tectonic subsidence of the northern part is very weak, the tectonic subsidence increasing from the late Badenian, observed in N1, 2, and 4, is fairly corresponding to the tectonic subsidence pattern of the central part. The different subsidence amount can be connected to the location of the major driving faults of the Vienna Basin. The faults evolved mainly during the late Karpatian are found mostly in the central and southern parts (Fig. 1b). The tensional activities of the Eastern Alps and the Pannonian Basin system caused the stronger tectonic subsidence in the central and southern parts.
Axis of E–W trending piggyback subsidence (Eggenburgian–early Karpatian, Early Miocene). In the Early Miocene, the piggyback basin started to subside in front of the thrusting active Alpine sheets. The subsidence was slow along an E–W trending axis, and in the early Karpatian became stronger along a NE–SW trending axis by an apparent counterclockwise rotation of the Alpine thrust front.
Axis of NE–SW trending transtensional subsidence (late Karpatian). High subsidence during the late Karpatian was accelerated and further enlarged mainly by sinistral strike-slip duplexes and by listric faults connected to strike-slip faults. The transtensional subsidence affected most parts of the basin except the northern basement high and the Laksary horst which are considered as transpressional regime areas.
Axis of combination of transtensional and extensional subsidences (Badenian; Middle Miocene). During the Badenian, the tectonic subsidence history varies laterally across the Vienna Basin. This study suggests that this differential tectonic subsidence was caused by the paleostress regime changing by weakening transtension and strengthening E–W-directed extension toward the late Middle Miocene.
Axis of E–W trending extensional subsidence (Sarmatian–Pannonian; late Middle–Late Miocene). The tectonic subsidence of the Sarmatian–Pannonian was concentrated along the major driving faults. It was related to fault activity corresponding to the axis of E–W trending extension of the western parts of the Pannonian Basin system.
Axis of NE–SW trending transtensional subsidence (Quaternary). In the Quaternary, the Vienna Basin has been reactivated, and resulted in small basins subsided along the Vienna Basin transfer fault system.
Open access funding provided by University of Vienna. We are grateful to the Dionyz Štur Institute, Slovakia, for providing us with data. Special thanks go to Andreas Beidinger and András Zámolyi who helped to collect and arrange the data. We acknowledge fruitful discussions with Kurt Decker on tectonical issues and Johannes Novotny on visualization techniques and two reviewers Sierd Cloetingh and Paul Mann for their constructive reviews. We also like to thank our colleagues and University of Vienna for their supports.
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