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The Sis palaeovalley: a record of proximal fluvial sedimentation and drainage basin development in response to Pyrenean mountain building



The Sis conglomerate body represents the Middle Eocene to Oligocene transfer-zone trunk palaeovalley fill of the Sis fluvial system, a drainage system established within the Pyrenees during Late Palaeocene times. The spatial stability of the fluvial transfer zone (active for at least 38 My), and hence the longevity of its aggradational palaeovalley component (>19·5 My), was controlled by its location between long-lived pre-existing structures. Coarse-grained fluvial facies dominate the palaeovalley fill, with alluvial fan facies shed from its defining marginal structures. The detailed sedimentology of very proximal fluvial facies deposited within the dominantly erosional realm of an active mountain belt has rarely been documented before because of their poor preservation potential. The Sis conglomerate body contains a robust internal stratigraphy with stratigraphic units defined by distinct bounding surfaces, across which there are pronounced changes in facies and provenance. These mark the reorganization of the headward portions of the Sis fluvial system during the evolution of the Pyrenean Axial Zone antiformal stack. Major changes in discharge resulted, demonstrating the highly variable nature of even mountain belt-scale fluvial systems when viewed on timescales of several to tens of millions of years. Provenance details indicate that initial unroofing of Hercynian granitoids, situated within the Pyrenean Axial Zone, occurred around 54·5 Ma (early Ypresian) immediately before the first significant exhumation event within the drainage basin of the Sis fluvial system. This is earlier than previously constrained by apatite fission track studies. Rock uplift accelerated in the Lutetian and Bartonian with the initial aggradation of the palaeovalley fill (the Cajigar and Cornudella Formations and Sis One and Two Members). This became marked in the Priabonian (Sis Three and Four Members), with significant activity on local structures including the Morreres backthrust. An increase in basement-derived clasts and a headwater decapitation event also indicate pronounced Axial Zone antiformal stack development at this time. Axial Zone development intensified further in the Oligocene with the deposition of the Collegats Formation and the switch in the main depositional loci of the system from the Tremp-Graus thrust-sheet-top basin to the Ebro Basin to the south.