Open Access

A regional scale Cretaceous transform fault zone at the northern Austroalpine margin: Geology of the western Ammergau Alps, Bavaria


We reinvestigated parts of the northern Austroalpine margin and provided structural and kinematic field data in order to interpret the kinematic relationship between the Cenoman-Randschuppe (CRS) marginal slice, Falkensteinzug (FSZ), Tannheim- and Karwendel thrust sheets occurring in a narrow strip at the northern front of the northwestern Northern Calcareous Alps (NCA). As a consequence, we propose a revised model for the tectonic evolution of the northern Austroalpine margin. As thrusting propagates from SSE to NNW (Cretaceous orogeny), the Karwendel thrust sheet (including its frontal part, the FSZ) was emplaced onto the Tannheim thrust sheet in the Albian, deduced from (i) upper-footwall deposits, the youngest sediments below the Karwendel thrust (Tannheim- and Losenstein Fms.), and (ii) thrust-sheet-top deposits unconformably overlying the deeply eroded northern Karwendel thrust sheet (Branderfleck Fm.). The future CRS marginal slice was, at that time, part of the foreland of this Early Cretaceous Alpine orogenic wedge. Pervasive overprint by sinistral shear within the CRS marginal slice and northern Tannheim thrust sheet suggests sinistral W-E striking transform faults cutting across this foreland, decoupling CRS marginal slice and FSZ from the main body of the NCA and enabling an independent evolution of the CRS marginal slice from the Early Cretaceous onwards. Subsequent Late Cretaceous and younger shortening leads to successive incorporation of Arosa zone, Rhenodanubian Flysch (RDF) and Helvetic units into the Alpine nappe stack; the Tannheim thrust representing the basal thrust of the NCA. Growth strata within thrust-sheet-top deposits (Branderfleck-Fm.) give evidence for refolding of thrust sheet boundaries. In a typical thin-skinned fold-and-thrust belt, deformation should cease towards the thrust front, whereas within the NCA it increases. An Austroalpine thrust front controlled by E-trending transform faults could cause an increase in deformation towards the most external NCA and explain the absence of the Arosa zone between Allgäu and Vienna. Such faults would most probably also cut out Lower Austroalpine units. Therefore, RDF and CRS marginal slice are juxtaposed; the latter found in the tectonic position of the Arosa zone. The presence of transform faults underlines the strong imprint of the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean on the depositional setting and tectonic evolution of the NCA.

Publication timeframe:
Volume Open
Journal Subjects:
Geosciences, Geophysics, Geology and Mineralogy, other