Swiss Journal of Geosciences

, Volume 103, Issue 3, pp 407–426 | Cite as

Distribution, geometry, age and origin of overdeepened valleys and basins in the Alps and their foreland

  • Frank PreusserEmail author
  • Jürgen M. Reitner
  • Christian Schlüchter


Overdeepened valleys and basins are commonly found below the present landscape surface in areas that were affected by Quaternary glaciations. Overdeepened troughs and their sedimentary fillings are important in applied geology, for example, for geotechnics of deep foundations and tunnelling, groundwater resource management, and radioactive waste disposal. This publication is an overview of the areal distribution and the geometry of overdeepened troughs in the Alps and their foreland, and summarises the present knowledge of the age and potential processes that may have caused deep erosion. It is shown that overdeepened features within the Alps concur mainly with tectonic structures and/or weak lithologies as well as with Pleistocene ice confluence and partly also diffluence situations. In the foreland, overdeepening is found as elongated buried valleys, mainly oriented in the direction of former ice flow, and glacially scoured basins in the ablation area of glaciers. Some buried deeply incised valleys were generated by fluvial down-cutting during the Messinian crisis but this mechanism of formation applies only for the southern side of the Alps. Lithostratigraphic records and dating evidence reveal that overdeepened valleys were repeatedly occupied and excavated by glaciers during past glaciations. However, the age of the original formation of (non-Messinian) overdeepened structures remains unknown. The mechanisms causing overdeepening also remain unidentified and it can only be speculated that pressurised meltwater played an important role in this context.


Glaciations Erosion Sediments Overdeepening Alps Quaternary 



We thank Helene Pfalz-Schwingenschlögl for drawing most of the figures in this manuscript. Andreas Dehnert, Christoph Janda, and Johannes Reischer provided technical support to create Fig. 2. Information on the location of overdeepened features was kindly provided by Gerhard Doppler and Ernst Kroemer for Bavaria, and by Giovanni Monegato for Northern Italy. The authors are indebted to Urs Fischer, Wilfried Haeberli, Mads Huuse, Oliver Kempf, Sally Lowick, John Menzies, and Michael Schnellmann for their constructive comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the manuscript.


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© Swiss Geological Society 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank Preusser
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jürgen M. Reitner
    • 2
  • Christian Schlüchter
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für GeologieUniversität BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Geologische BundesanstaltWienAustria

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