Swiss Journal of Geosciences

, Volume 107, Issue 2–3, pp 177–195 | Cite as

The Alpstein in three dimensions: fold-and-thrust belt visualization in the Helvetic zone, eastern Switzerland

  • Paola Sala
  • O. Adrian Pfiffner
  • Marcel Frehner


To investigate the geometrical relationships between folding and thrust faulting, we built a 3D geological model of the Helvetic fold-and-thrust belt in eastern Switzerland from several existing and two newly drawn cross-sections in the Säntis area. We partly redrew existing cross-sections and validated them by checking for line length balance; to fill areas with no data we drew additional cross-sections. The model was built based on surface interpolation of the formation interfaces and thrusts between the cross-sections, which allowed generating eight main surfaces. In addition, we used cave data to validate the final model in depth. The main structural elements in the Säntis area, the Säntis Thrust and the Sax-Schwende Fault, are also implemented in the model. The result is a 3D structural model of the area, which provides an intuitive way for examining a portion of a complex structural nappe. The 3D model highlights the shapes of the main anticline-syncline pairs and how these fold trains vary laterally in amplitude and wavelength. It shows how lateral variations in fold style correlate with regional shortening gradients as determined from line-length balancing. The model also clearly shows the lateral extension, the trend, and the variation in displacement along the principal faults. The reconstruction of horizons in 3D allows the investigation of cross-sections in any given direction. The 3D model is useful for developing and understanding how the internal nappe structures, namely folds and thrust faults, change along strike due to palaeogeographic and stratigraphic variations. Lateral stratigraphy variations correlate with different deformation responses of the nappe. Changes can occur either abruptly across transverse faults or in a more gradual manner.


Central Alps Helvetic nappes Säntis Thrust 3D modelling Line balancing Depth validation with cave data 



We thank Pemex-Petróleos Mexicanos for the financial support and Midland Valley Ltd for providing the academic license of Move and software support. The Speleological Group of Eastern Switzerland (OGH), and in particular Richard Graf, is gratefully acknowledged for providing the cave data and for extensive discussions and enthusiasm about this project. We also thank the reviewers for valuable suggestions and improvements to the manuscript.

Supplementary material

15_2014_168_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (365 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 365 kb)
15_2014_168_MOESM2_ESM.mve (28.4 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (MVE 29133 kb)


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Copyright information

© Swiss Geological Society 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paola Sala
    • 1
    • 2
  • O. Adrian Pfiffner
    • 1
  • Marcel Frehner
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Geological SciencesUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Eni E&PSan Donato MilaneseItaly
  3. 3.Geological Institute, ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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