Factors controlling the Alpine evolution of the central Pyrenees inferred from a comparison of observations and geodynamical models


  • Christopher Beaumont,

  • Josep Anton Muñoz,

  • Juliet Hamilton,

  • Philippe Fullsack


Geodynamical numerical modeling has been combined with crustal structural restoration of the central Pyrenees in order to gain insight into fundamental processes that control the evolution of collisional orogens. Models are based on deformation of the crust by stresses transmitted upward from kinematic basal boundary conditions corresponding to the subduction of part of the lithosphere. The influence of inherited crustal heterogeneities, denudation, subcrustal loads, and crustal mechanical properties, consistent with well-constrained crustal partial restored cross sections of the central Pyrenees, is investigated by progressively incorporating them into model experiments. The primary result inferred from the modeling is that the asymmetry of the central Pyrenees double-wedge, seen as strain partitioning and in the morphological evolution, is a consequence of the asymmetric distribution of inherited crustal heterogeneity. The tectonic style of the central Pyrenees is the result of the inversion of the Early Cretaceous extensional fault system, during the early stages of the collision, and the reactivation of Hercynian heterogeneities during the late stages. Most of the upper crustal mass that entered the orogen during the calculated 165 km of convergence was accommodated by an increase of upper crustal cross sectional area or lost by denudation. To explain the upper crustal mass partitioning, as well as the geometry of the foreland basins and the preservation of synorogenic deposits in piggyback basins, a subduction load has to be applied to the models. Lower crust and mantle lithosphere were consumed by the mantle.