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Differential compaction and early rock fracturing in high-relief carbonate platforms: numerical modelling of a Triassic case study (Esino Limestone, Central Southern Alps, Italy)


Correspondence: Fabrizio.Berra, Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra “A. Desio”, Università degli Studi di Milano, Via Mangiagalli 34, 20133 Milano, Italy. E-mail:


Numerical models were used to investigate the effects of differential compaction on strain development and early fracturing in an early cemented high-relief Triassic carbonate platform prograding onto basinal sediments, whose thickness increases basinward. Results show that basinal sediment compaction induces stretching of internal platform and slope strata in prograding platforms. When sediments are early cemented, such extensional strain is accommodated by the generation of syndepositional fractures. The amount of stretching is predicted to increase from the oldest to the youngest layers, due to the thickening of the compactable basinal sequences towards the external parts of the platform. Stretching is also controlled by the characteristics of the basin: the thicker and the more compactable the basinal sediments, the larger will be the stretching. Numerical modelling has been applied to the Ladinian–Early Carnian carbonate platform of the Esino Limestone (Central Southern Alps of Italy). This case study is favourable for numerical modelling, as it is well exposed and both its internal geometry (inner platform, reef and prograding clinostratified slope deposits) and the relationship with the adjacent basin can be fully reconstructed, as the Alpine tectonic overprint is weak in the study area. Evidence for early fracturing (fractures filled by fibrous cements coeval with the platform development) is described and the location, orientation and width of the fractures measured. The fractures are mainly steeply dipping and oriented perpendicularly to the direction of progradation of the platform, mimicking local platform-margin trends. The integration of numerical models with field data gives the opportunity to quantify the extension triggered by differential compaction and predict the possible distribution of early fractures in carbonate platforms of known geometry and thickness, whereas the interpretation of early fractures as the effects of differential compaction can be supported or rejected by the comparison with the results of ad hoc numerical modelling.