The Lower Freshwater Molasse (Untere Susswasser Molasse) crops out over a wide area of the Swiss Molasse Basin. Coarse grained alluvial fan conglomerates dominate in proximal basin areas along the Alpine front. These conglomerates pass northwards into sandstones and mudstones of an extensive northeastward draining meandering river system which ran parallel to the basin axis. Sedimentological study of outcrops, quarry exposures and boreholes in the basal Miocene (‘Aquitanian‘) has permitted detailed facies analysis of this distal alluvial sequence. The distal Aquitanian is made up of distinct ‘architectural elements’characterized by their geometries and sedimentary structures. Each may be assigned to a particular depositional setting: meander belt, levees, crevasse channels and splays, overbank fines and palaeosols, and lacustrine.
Meander belt sandstones were deposited in mixed load channels with a dominant bedload component. Sandstones commonly comprise amalgamated and locally stacked ribbon bodies 2–15 m thick and 150–1500 m wide. Interbedded rippled, laminated and mottled fine grained levee sandstones and siltstones form lenticular packages up to 3 m thick and 30–100 m across. Small scale crevasse channel sandstones 2–4 m thick and 5–10 m across pass laterally into metre scale, medium to fine grained crevasse sandstone sheets. Rare laminated lacustrine siltstones occur only in the north-east part of the basin. Floodplain mudstones and marls make up the remainder of the succession. These display a variety of pedogenic features recording cyclical palaeosol development. Palaeosols show strong variations in morphology and maturity both laterally across the floodplain and downstream along the basin axis, reflecting local variation in aggradation rate associated with proximity to alluvial channel courses as well as regional variation in subsidence and floodplain drainage.
Analysis of the organization and distribution of the various sediment bodies permits reconstruction of the fluvial system and allows development of a model for the sedimentary architecture of the Lower Freshwater Molasse in the study area. Integration of palaeosol studies into a well defined architectural framework assists recognition of areal facies belts and may aid location of sand-prone sequences in the subsurface.