The Upper Cretaceous Pietraforte Formation, an allochthonous unit of the Ligurian domain in the northern Apennines, provides a case study of the importance of detrital carbonate grains for provenance determination in sandstones.
The Pietraforte Formation is composed of turbidite sandstones with subordinate conglomerate, deposited in an external sector of the Ligurian ocean, close to the Adriatic margin. The sandstones have a lithic composition, characterized by abundant sedimentary and metasedimentary rock fragments (35–56% of the terrigenous framework), little feldspar (<7%) that is almost exclusively plagioclase, and a high ratio of fine- to coarse-grained polycrystalline quartzose grains to total quartzose grains (average Qp/Qt=0.37).
Carbonate rock fragments dominate the lithic association of both sandstones and conglomerates and provide the most detailed information for provenance determination. They are composed primarily of dolostones and a wide variety of limestones containing identifiable age-diagnostic microfossils. Fossils and rock textures of carbonate clasts document the erosion of Upper Triassic to Lower Cretaceous shelf and pelagic carbonate units which can be matched with Mesozoic rock types present in the Tuscan domain of the northern Apennines. Compositional results constrain the source of the Pietraforte Formation sandstones to the western margin of the Adriatic plate, from uplifted sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks of the Tuscan domain and its low-grade metamorphic basement.
Coeval intrabasinal sources provided additional supplies to the depositional basin of the Pietraforte Formation; this intrabasinal supply consists of shelf carbonate allochems, planktonic foraminifera and argillaceous rip-up clasts. The presence of carbonate grains from shallow-water environments may indicate the existence during deposition of marginal shelf areas favourable for carbonate allochem production.