Geophysical-geological transect and tectonic evolution of the Swiss-Italian Alps


  • S. M. Schmid,

  • O. A. Pfiffner,

  • N. Froitzheim,

  • G. Schönborn,

  • E. Kissling


A complete Alpine cross section integrates numerous seismic reflection and refraction profiles, across and along strike, with published and new field data. The deepest parts of the profile are constrained by geophysical data only, while structural features at intermediate levels are largely depicted according to the results of three-dimensional models making use of seismic and field geological data. The geometry of the highest structural levels is constrained by classical along-strike projections of field data parallel to the pronounced easterly axial dip of all tectonic units. Because the transect is placed close to the western erosional margin of the Austroalpine nappes of the Eastern Alps, it contains all the major tectonic units of the Alps. A model for the tectonic evolution along the transect is proposed in the form of scaled and area-balanced profile sketches. Shortening within the Austroalpine nappes is testimony of a separate Cretaceous-age orogenic event. West directed thrusting in these units is related to westward propagation of a thrust wedge resulting from continental collision along the Meliata-Hallstatt Ocean further to the east. Considerable amounts of oceanic and continental crustal material were subducted during Tertiary orogeny, which involved some 500 km of N-S convergence between Europe and Apulia. Consequently, only a very small percentage of this crustal material is preserved within the nappes depicted in the transect. Postcollisional shortening is characterized by the simultaneous activity of gently dipping north directed detachments and steeply inclined south directed detachments, both detachments nucleating at the interface between lower and upper crust. Large scale wedging of the Adriatic (or Apulian) lower crust into a gap opening between the subduced European lower crust and the pile of thin upper crustal flakes (Alpine nappes) indicates a relatively strong lower crust and detachment between upper and lower crust.