• Graupensandrinne;
  • Liesegang;
  • loading;
  • Molasse Basin;
  • sedimentary structures

Abstract Spectacular sedimentary structures recently found in the Molasse Basin (Oligocene–Miocene) in southern Germany were produced by soft-sediment deformation under highly unusual conditions. These large, apparently wedge-like structures –‘loading fractures’– cut down into beds of marl and are filled with coarse sand and intraclasts of shale. Wrapping the sides of the structures is a thin, continuous bed of layered dark claystone – the ‘DCB’. The upper and lower layers of this bed are an organic-rich clay; the middle layer is a laminated quartzite. The precursor of the DCB was a lacustrine gyttja rich in diatom frustules. It was supersaturated in silica as it was buried. Subsequent diffusion of oxygen into this gyttja at a burial depth of only a few metres resulted in the formation of Liesegang laminae of quartz. These laminae grew and amalgamated, forming the layer of laminated quartzite. The sediments overlying the DCB were eventually removed by erosion, probably in a high-energy marine environment. This erosion cut down to the DCB but was unable to penetrate it. The DCB remained exposed on the sea floor until a sudden depositional event occurred – the deposition of a 2·5 metre thick bed of coarse sand with shale intraclasts. Although the DCB had been able to resist the submarine erosion, it could not support the load of this new bed. The quartzite layer in it therefore fractured, transferring that load down onto the underlying, still-unconsolidated marl. The intraclast-rich sands were forced down into this marl, carrying ahead of them the partly broken remains of the DCB.