Turbidite sedimentation during Alpine thrusting: the Taveyannaz sandstones of eastern Switzerland



    1. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, UK
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      Now at: Department of Geological Sciences, Science Laboratories, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK.


The Taveyannaz sandstones of eastern Switzerland are a succession of turbidites found within the Tertiary North Helvetic Flysch system; they represent a portion of the early, underfilled stage of the North Alpine Foreland Basin. The Taveyannaz sandstones were deposited in two sub-basins (Inner and Outer basins) separated by a topographic high trending ENE-WSW (parallel to the subsequent structural strike of the region), interpreted as an emergent thrust tip that propagated into the basin. The southerly Inner basin is therefore considered as a ‘piggy-back’basin comprising a 140 m thick succession dominated by approximately 12 very thick bedded sandstones with thick mudstone caps; these very thick bedded sandstone-mudstone couplets are interpreted as having resulted from the ponding of megaturbidite flows in the topographically confined Inner basin. Intercalated with the very thick bedded sandstones are thin to medium bedded sandstones. The Outer (northerly) basin comprises at least 240 m of turbidites characterized by sandstone packets (5–50 m thick) with extensive amalgamation of beds and a dominantly symmetrical vertical bed thickness and grain size profile. Intercalated between the sandstone packets are laminated graded siltstones and mudstones.

The Inner basin sediments underwent localized deformation on the sea floor, generating an irregular surface topography which was then capped by a mud sheet emplaced by superficial sliding. During the emplacement of the mud sheet, large sandstone blocks (up to 130 m across) were incorporated from the underlying succession. The resultant geometry of the upper surface of the Inner basin sandstones exhibits vertical walls which truncate, and are perpendicular to, the underlying beds.

The depositional style and structural control of the Taveyannaz sandstones, in association with the emplacement of superficial mud sheets, reflect processes that are highly analogous to those occurring in modern accretionary wedge environments.

The sandstone packets of the Outer basin reflect a cyclical pattern of sedimentation alternating between deposition of sandstones and mudstones. The autocyclical or allocyclical controls on these high frequency alternations are difficult to interpret; likely mechanisms include lobe switching, climatic variations, eustatic sea level fluctuations and changes of horizontal in-plane deviatoric stress on the lithosphere. In this example, an alternative mechanism is speculated upon. This is based on the analogy with accretionary wedge processes. In this hypothesis, it is proposed that high frequency fluctuations in the accommodation space available on the shelf may result from fluctuations in the topographic slope of an accretionary wedge around its critical taper. Hence, during periods of accelerated frontal accretion, the taper angle of the thrust wedge becomes subcritical resulting in a broad, low angle topographic slope and increased shelfal accommodation. Consequently, sediment becomes trapped in a relatively landward position. The necessary rejuvenation of the surface slope of the thrust wedge to a critical taper is achieved through internal reactivation resulting in tectonic uplift and hence a relative fall in sea level; this leads to the reworking of sediment to the base of slope or outer trench. Repeated alternations of relative sea level between a subcritical highstand and a supercritical lowstand are considered to be sufficient to generate the observed alternations between sandstone and mudstone packages in the turbidite basin.