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Tectonic inheritance controls nappe detachment, transport and stacking in the Helvetic Nappe System, Switzerland: insights from thermo-mechanical simulations

Abstract : Tectonic nappes are observed for more than a hundred years. Although geological studies often refer to a "nappe theory", the physical mechanisms of nappe formation are still incompletely understood. We apply two-dimensional numerical simulations of shortening of a passive margin, to investigate the thermo-mechanical processes of detachment, transport and stacking of nappes. We use a visco-elasto-plastic model with standard creep flow laws and Drucker-Prager yield criterion. We consider tectonic inheritance with two initial mechanical heterogeneities: (1) lateral heterogeneity of the basement-cover interface due to half-grabens and horsts and (2) vertical heterogeneities due to layering of mechanically strong and weak sedimentary units. The model shows detachment and horizontal transport of a thrust nappe and stacking of this thrust nappe above a fold nappe. The detachment of the thrust sheet is triggered by stress concentrations around the sediment-basement contact and the resulting brittle-plastic shear band formation. The horizontal transport is facilitated by a basal shear zone just above the basement-cover contact, composed of thin, weak sediments. Fold nappe formation occurs by a dominantly ductile closure of a half-graben and the associated extrusion of the half-graben fill. We apply our model to the Helvetic nappe system in Western Switzerland, which is characterized by stacking of the Wildhorn thrust nappe above the Morcles fold nappe. The modeled structures and temperature field agree with data from the Helvetic nappe system. The mechanical heterogeneities must generate contrasts in effective viscosity (i.e. ratio of stress to strain rate) of four orders of magnitude to model nappe structures similar to the ones of the Helvetic nappe system.
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Daniel Kiss, Thibault Duretz, Stefan Schmalholz. Tectonic inheritance controls nappe detachment, transport and stacking in the Helvetic Nappe System, Switzerland: insights from thermo-mechanical simulations. Solid Earth, European Geosciences Union, 2020, 11 (2), pp.287-305. ⟨10.5194/se-2019-130⟩. ⟨insu-02462686⟩

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