Three-dimensional modelling of folds, thrusts, and strike-slip faults in the area of Val de Ruz (Jura Mountains, Switzerland)
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The Val-de-Ruz syncline is a northeast-southwest trending, rhomb-shaped synclinal basin in the internal part of the central Jura Mountains. The Mesozoic sediment succession is decoupled from the basement by a décollement horizon in Middle Triassic evaporite-bearing layers at depth and folding is associated with southeast-dipping thrust splays rooting into this décollement. The folds and thrusts also interfere with a system of N-S striking, sinistral strike-slip faults. A 3D model was constructed from the following input data: A digital elevation model, the 1:25,000 geological map of Switzerland, published contours of the top of basement based on drilling and seismics, and nine newly constructed cross-sections. The latter are based on surface geology and published seismic data. Cross-sections parallel to the northwestward transport direction, i.e. perpendicular to the overall strike, are line balanced. Anticlines are interpreted as faulted detachment folds, which initiated by buckling and associated flow of evaporites from synclinal to anticlinal areas. Anticlines were later broken by northwest-vergent thrusts and subsequently developed into fault-propagation folds during décollement from the basement and northwestward translation. The model assumes no faulting in the pre-Mesozoic basement and no hidden flat-ramp tectonics in the subsurface in order to account for structurally high positions. As a consequence, the modelled cumulative, post-deformation thickness of Triassic strata locally exceeds 1500 m, which we find in accordance with regional observations. From the geological 3D model, new cross-sections in any desired orientation and tectonic thickness variations of the layers can be extracted. The three output cross-sections presented are in excellent agreement with published reflection seismic data. The most important features of our model are (1) large thickness variations due to lateral flow of evaporites, and (2) new and plausible explanation of structural highs in terms of accumulation of Triassic strata by lateral flow.
Keywords3D modelling Jura Mountains Val de Ruz Detachment fold
The tectonic evolution of the Jura Mountains was governed by decoupling along evaporites in the Middle Triassic (Muschelkalk) and Upper Triassic (Keuper) sedimentary successions. Isopachs of the Muschelkalk and Keuper are similar in shape to the outline of the Jura Mountains, together reaching 1000 m and more in the internal western part while they are only several tens of meters thick in the adjacent Helvetic units in the Alps (Loup 1992; Sommaruga 1997, 1999; Affolter and Gratier 2004). This suggests that the lateral termination of the Jura Mountains to the East and to the South results from the pinching-out of the evaporites. The fact that the Mesozoic strata are spectacularly folded in the Jura Mountains whereas folding is hardly visible in the Molasse Basin has led some researchers to seek the origin of the folding in deformation of the basement under the Jura (e.g. Aubert 1945; Pavoni 1961; Ziegler 1982). Others have assumed that shortening in the Jura Mountains is completely allochthonous and that the corresponding shortening of the basement took place on the other side of the Molasse Basin within the Alps, hence, tens of kilometres to the Southeast (Buxtorf 1907, 1916; Laubscher 1961). This theory, called the “Fernschubhypothese”, is now accepted by most authors although it is acknowledged that pre-existing Paleozoic and Tertiary normal faults played a role in the localization and development of contractional structures, i.e. folds and thrusts (Ustaszewski and Schmid 2006; Malz et al. 2016). The generally southeastward- or hinterland-dipping thrusts in the Jura Mountains are assumed to root into a major floor thrust located within or at the bottom of the Triassic formations (Buxtorf 1907, 1916; Burkhard 1990). The mechanical basement beneath this floor thrust includes Variscan basement and locally also Permo-Carboniferous troughs (Diebold 1988; Madritsch et al. 2008) as well as Lower Triassic fluvial sediments (Buntsandstein). The floor thrust continues beneath the Molasse Basin and connects shortening of the Mesozoic-Tertiary cover in the Jura mountains with basement shortening in the external zone of the Alps (e.g. Laubscher 1961). Its existence is confirmed by highly deformed Triassic rocks found in wells in the Molasse Basin in the hinterland of the western (Fischer and Luterbacher 1963) and eastern Jura Mountains (Jordan 1992). The relatively weak deformation in the post-Triassic rocks in the subsurface of the Molasse Basin is explained by the thickness of the Tertiary Molasse sediments, which prevented the Mesozoic layers to lift off and form anticlines or thrust duplexes (e.g. Laubscher 1961). In the ductile Triassic sediments, however, folds with wavelengths around 10 km and a few hundred meters amplitude exist beneath the Molasse Basin as well (Bitterli 1972; Sommaruga 1995). Towards northwest the thickness of the Molasse sedimentary pile progressively decreases while the thickness of the soft Triassic succession increases, allowing the post-Triassic succession to detach from the basement and to become folded and imbricated in the Jura Mountains.
Compared to the Swiss Molasse Basin, which was subject to hydrocarbon prospection, the density of wells and reflection seismic lines is scarce in most of the Jura Mountains and the subsurface architecture remains a matter of debate. In particular, the existence of structurally high domains, i.e. areas where the entire Mesozoic succession is at a relatively high elevation, has been interpreted in controversial ways. These high domains have been explained by (1) local basement highs (Guellec et al. 1990; Pfiffner et al. 1997) or (2) exceptional thickness of Triassic strata, either of sedimentary or tectonic origin (e.g., Sommaruga 1997; Affolter and Gratier 2004). Recently, Schori et al. (2015) have proposed (3) regional doubling of the lower part of the sedimentary succession above the mechanical basement for the Chasseral area northwest of Lake Biel. This doubling would be the result of a large-offset splay rooting in the floor thrust and forming a map-scale upper flat in Middle Jurassic (Dogger) claystone (Opalinus clay). It would thus account for about 800 m of structural uplift.
Our contribution strongly builds on the work of Sommaruga (1995, 1997, 1999) and Sommaruga and Burkhard (1997), who interpreted industrial seismic profiles from the southern Jura Mountains and the Molasse Basin and combined them with the surface geology into a coherent tectonic picture of the Internal Jura Mountains around the Val de Ruz and the adjacent Molasse Basin. We took the results of these studies as input for our modelling as our newly constructed cross-sections largely agree with their approach regarding structural style. Like these authors, we assume no deformation in the basement and a simple ramp-flat architecture, in which thrusts observed at the surface diverge as splays from the floor thrust at the top of the mechanical basement. We actually imply rather free formation of anti- and synclines in the Triassic rocks and comparably small-offset thrusts in the sedimentary pile above. This simple approach leads to extremely well balanced cross-sections. The model predicts originally thick Triassic sequences, which are considerably over-thickened below antiforms. Accordingly, bulk shortening is limited, i.e. around 7% and at most 17%. We will discuss the proposed architecture, the inherent assumptions and alternative views in the light of regional observations in detail after the presentation of the model.
2 Structural edifice in the study area
The study area is characterized by faulted anticlines, which expose Dogger and Malm in their cores, forming topographic highs and synclines, which contain Lower Cretaceous and thin Tertiary sediments (Fig. 2). The anticlines trend overall southwest-northeast. They are dominantly thrust towards northwest over the synclines but some backthrusting occurs as well. In the southeast of the study area, the large Chaumont Anticline exposes formations of the Malm. North of Lake Neuchatel, the trend of this anticline changes from north-northeast in the north to northeast further south. An associated thrust cutting across the external limb is only exposed in the Northeast. Towards southwest, this thrust disappears below the Quaternary cover of the Val de Ruz. An additional very minor anticline appears more internally just north of Lake Neuchatel, exposing a narrow stripe of Malm in the core.
Northwest of the Chaumont Anticline follows the rhomb-shaped Val-de-Ruz syncline. It contains Oligo-Miocene Molasse sediments but is mostly covered by fluvio-glacial Quaternary sediments. Where not covered by the Quaternary, the dip of the Mesozoic and Tertiary strata is mostly 0°–20° towards southeast. Also the smooth, gently northwestward rising topography suggests a rather consistent dip. The dip of sedimentary strata is in good agreement, i.e. in parallelism with the top of the mechanical basement, which was contoured using regional reflection seismic data and is interpreted as the base of the Muschelkalk strata (Sommaruga 1997). The local reflection seismic data across the Val de Ruz is generally of very good quality and shows a simple, undeformed pile of reflectors parallel to the contoured top-basement surface (Sommaruga 1997, 1999). Hence, the Val de Ruz appears to expose an internally almost undeformed, complete sedimentary pile on top of a hangingwall thrust flat. The syncline might thus provide a reference section to estimate the original thickness of the sedimentary pile (Sommaruga 1999). This parameter is essential for the construction of line-balanced cross-sections as such sections typically assume constant layer thicknesses.
To the northwest of the Val-de-Ruz syncline follows the dominating anticline on the map sheet, which widely exposes Middle Jurassic strata in its core. The southwestern part of this anticline (Mont Racine, Tête de Ran) trends northeast to north-northeast, the northeastern part (Mont d’Amin, Joux du Plane) trends east-northeast. In the area where the trend changes, the anticline is offset by a system of minor, en-échelon strike-slip faults, which form the southern tip of the major sinistral La Ferrière strike-slip fault (Tschanz 1990; Sommaruga 1997). These strike-slip faults are located between the profile traces C4 and C7 shown in Fig. 2. Similarly oriented, small strike-slip faults occur also in other parts of the area, e.g. at Chaumont and Mont Racine. The Mont d’Amin—La Joux du Plane anticline on the eastern side of the strike-slip zone is not directly adjacent to the Val de Ruz syncline. A tight syncline with Cretaceous in the core and a gentle anticline (Les Planches Anticline) exposing Malm appear in between. Hence, anti- and synclines are discontinuous across the strike-slip fault system and not only rigidly displaced, suggesting that the faults were active as tear faults during folding and thrusting. In the northwestern corner of the map sheet, there is another couple of complex anticlines (Les Roulets and Pouillerel) separated by synclines. The structurally deepest syncline is that of La Chaux-de-Fonds containing Tertiary beds up to Late Middle Miocene age. The geometries of these folds outside the map sheet to the north are actually substantially different to both sides of the La Ferrière fault (Sommaruga 1997). The particular shape of the Val-de-Ruz syncline results from the southwestward divergence of the Les Planches anticline and the Chaumont anticline and the following convergence outside the study area to the southwest (Figs. 1, 2). Such truly 3-dimensional structures are seen at several places in the Jura Mountains, exposing further rhomb-shaped synclines such as the Delémont syncline (Keller and Liniger 1930). This architecture may partly result from simultaneous distributed buckling and subsequent lateral growth of anticlines into a non-cylindrical pattern (Grasemann and Schmalholz 2012). On the other hand, pre-existing faults inherited from Rhine Graben rifting also play an important role (Laubscher 1972).
3 Three-dimensional model
3.1 Data and building strategy
The 3D geometrical model was constructed using MOVE (version 2014) developed by Midland Valley Corporation. First the digital elevation model (DEM) and the geological map (1:250,000) of the area were implemented as a reference. In the next step, the key features of the area such as tear faults and thrust faults and also unit boundaries (called “horizons” in MOVE) on the surface were digitized according to the surface data and the geological map. Nine vertical cross-sections, which had been newly constructed and/or modified from Sommaruga (1997), were entered, and the structural architecture of each profile was digitised by using the Fault and Horizon tool. Finally, the synthetic three-dimensional model of the fold-and-thrust belt was constructed using the interpolation algorithm of MOVE between serial cross-sections. Thrust surfaces were constructed in the same way. For those surfaces (horizons, thrusts and faults) not defined between two adjacent cross sections (e.g. at the side of the model), the Extrusion Method of the software was used, which extrapolates lines based on the original specification in the desired trend or plunge direction.
The geometries of tear faults were designed in the following way. The two largest tear faults cut and offset the underlying ramp below the Tête de Ran anticline at shallow depth but root into them in the deeper parts of the section. Hence, the thrust is zipped by the tear faults down to a certain depth below which there is no offset (3D file in the supplementary material). In this way, the tear faults account for the offset of the thrust faults at the surface, but still preserve a continuous branch line with the major floor thrust. Minor tear faults were modelled as mere surfaces that produce no offset or only a small flexure in the horizons.
3.2 Results and implications
Topographic fold axis data
Structural fold axis data
We briefly discuss a few aspects of the model: the implied thickness of the Muschelkalk strata, thickness variations within the Muschelkalk, and finally fault offset and deformation style.
The Muschelkalk strata have an average sedimentary thickness of around 1000 m according to our model (see detailed discussion below). Though relatively large, this thickness is perfectly reasonable in view of seismic and well data in- and outside the Jura Mountains and is also in line with other studies on the western Jura Mountains (Sommaruga 1997; Affolter and Gratier 2004). However, the top of the basement in the study area is not constrained by drilling and not imaged beyond doubt by reflection seismics. The Triassic formations might well be 200–300 m thinner if top basement would be shallower. The nearest well that penetrates the Triassic rocks, the above-mentioned well Treycovagnes-1 (Fig. 1), yielded more than a 1000 m of Triassic rocks. Most of these were actually imbricated Keuper sediments. Hence, it seems that at a regional scale the strata of the Keuper experience the same style of decoupled deformation as those of the Muschelkalk. In the Val de Ruz area, coherent deformation of Keuper and the overlying sequence is merely suggested by the regionally occurring reflector H (Sommaruga 1997).
It appears that thickness variations of the Triassic succession within and in the vicinity of the study occur at different scales and that they have different origins: (1) At the regional scale, the average thickness of Triassic strata continuously decreases by an order of magnitude from the Jura Mountains towards the Helvetic domain of the Alps and this variation is clearly of sedimentary origin (e.g. Sommaruga 1997). (2) Within the Jura Mountains, there are pronounced local thickness increases related to ramp-flat thrusting at the kilometre scale. (3) This thrusting appears to be superimposed on broader anti- and synclines at the scale of 5–10 km, which are related to lateral flow in the soft Triassic sediments and this deformation might at least partly be older than the thrusting. The wide Val de Ruz basin corresponds to a syncline of this sort. The average pre-deformation (pre-thrusting and pre-flowing) sedimentary thicknesses of the Muschelkalk strata along a cross section can be estimated by dividing the cross sectional area of the Muschelkalk between two pinlines by the original (retro-deformed) length of the now folded and thrusted sedimentary pile. Note that this length is well constrained by the length of the younger Mesozoic strata near the surface. Thicknesses of the Muschelkalk series derived by this approach are between 1010 and 1130 meters for four NW–SE-oriented cross sections (Fig. 4; D1: 1010 m, D2: 1025 m, D3: 1095 m, D8: 1130 m). This is 100–250 m thicker than the minimum thickness of the Muschelkalk below the Val-de-Ruz syncline. Hence, the thickness below the Val-de-Ruz syncline is significantly lower than the average pre-deformation sedimentary thickness and we interpret this deviation to be the result of horizontal flow from the syncline into the adjacent anticlines. The presence of salt leads to extremely weak detachment horizons and typically causes flow into anticlines during incipient deformation, as has been shown for several examples of fold-and-thrust belts, including the Jura Mountains (Davis and Engelder 1985).
Strictly law-abiding balancing assuming a constant thickness for the Triassic has led to far-reaching interpretations about the subsurface architecture such as local basement highs or complicated shortening geometries at depth (e.g. Laubscher 2003) as the thickness has typically been inferred from the wide synclines where the original sedimentary thickness of the Triassic might be underestimated.
More than one thrust can nucleate from a flow-related larger-scale anticline leading to the occurrence of structurally high, narrow synclines in between. In order to explain a wide structural high, Schori et al. (2015) have proposed doubling of the older part of the stratigraphic succession along a detachment with several kilometres offset in the lower Middle Jurassic Opalinus clay for the map sheet “Chasseral” northeast of the study area. However, where the lower Middle Jurassic rocks reach the surface, e.g. on the next map sheet to the Northeast (“Moutier”), the Opalinus clay is coherently folded together with the older and younger Mesozoic successions and no detachment is present (Pfirter 1997). Also in tunnels the Opalinus clay has typically been found in stratigraphic succession (see Buxtorf 1916; Laubscher 2008; Caer et al. 2015). Large-wavelength folding at amplitudes of a few hundred meters accommodated by lateral flow in the Triassic is well documented by drilling and seismics in the Molasse Basin (Sommaruga 1997) but also in the more external Plateau Jura. The above-mentioned well Laveron-1 (Fig. 1) penetrates more than 1400 m of Triassic rocks, and reflection seismic data show a corresponding antiform with a wavelength of 10 kilometres below the reflector H (Sommaruga 1997). Such folding under the Internal Jura can explain structural highs more naturally than discrete fault-related structures. Our model also shows a gradual variation of structural level rather than discrete steps, which would be expected if highs and lows were controlled by faults. The observed upward bend of strata towards the anticlines even beneath the thrust ramps (Fig. 4, e.g. southern anticline in sections C1, C2, and C3) is in our view a further argument for lateral flow in the Triassic. Finally, thrust faults in the study area show at most a few hundred meters offset at the surface. In traditional balancing approaches, such thrusts often are displayed with kilometres of offset at depth since the rather wide back-limbs of antiforms are explained by the doubling of strata rather than by horizontal flow. Accordingly, our model predicts moderate shortening between 7 and 17%, which is less than typical reconstructions that assume an on the average thinner Triassic succession. The initial buckling stage may be associated with an unknown amount of distributed layer-parallel shortening and associated thickening (e.g. Frehner et al. 2012; Ghassemi et al. 2010). For this reason our shortening estimates are minimum values. We consider, however, distributed deformation to be limited since little or no internal deformation is found outside tectonized zones in the Jura (Tschanz 1990).
3D geometrical modelling resulted in a plausible subsurface model from which new kinematically balanced cross-sections can be extracted. The folds are decoupled from the basement in the evaporite-bearing Muschelkalk series. The Muschelkalk appears to show significant pre-thrusting thickness variations. This variation is at least partly due to lateral flow of the Triassic evaporites during the early phase of detachment folding, away from synclines and towards anticlines. Assuming a second decoupling horizon in the Dogger or involvement of the basement in the Jura tectonics is unnecessary for explaining the geology of the study area. Due to the young tectonics of the Jura Mountains, topography closely correlates with tectonic structure. Comparing “topographic” fold axes derived from orientation statistics of the Earth’s surface with published “structural” fold axes confirms earlier suggestions that the trend of the NNE-trending folds was modified by small-scale NS-striking sinistral strike-slip faults similar to regional tear faults like the La Ferrière fault.
We thank A. Sommaruga, M. Frehner, and editor S. Schmid for careful reviews that helped substantially to improve the paper.
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