Depositional wedge tops: interaction between low basal friction external orogenic wedges and flexural foreland basins


Mary Ford, Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques, ENSG-INPL, 15 Rue Notre Dame des Pauvres, B.P. 20, 54501 Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy Cedex, France. E-mail:


Growth structures develop mainly across depositional wedge tops where the top of the distal orogenic wedge lies below local base level within the flexural foreland basin. Documented examples indicate that optimum conditions for the development of a depositional wedge top occur when the dip of the upper surface of the outer orogenic wedge (α) is low (0–1°), regardless of the taper angle (α+β), where β is the inclination of the base of the wedge. Low α angles are associated with the presence of low friction décollements, usually salt. Therefore, depositional wedge tops develop most commonly on low basal friction wedges. In natural examples such as the northern Apennines, the South Central Pyrenees and the Zagros, it is shown that whereas α is consistently low, β can vary considerably (1–9°), being principally controlled by flexure of the lower plate. In addition, the distribution of deformation in the wedge is complex. The applicability of the critical wedge model to low basal friction external orogenic zones is examined. Neither taper angles, nor the complex distribution of internal deformation nor the often associated forward slip of the whole wedge, can be satisfactorily explained by the established critical wedge model. As weak detachments such as salt cannot support any significant topography, it follows that low basal friction wedges cannot attain a critical state and, therefore, the critical wedge model cannot be satisfactorily applied to these external orogenic systems. This model, however, explains well the behaviour of external orogenic wedges with high basal friction. In the analysis of orogenic wedges, separate analysis of the angles α and β proves more useful than the critical taper angle α+β.