Alpine deformation and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology of synkinematic white mica in the Siviez-Mischabel Nappe, western Pennine Alps, Switzerland

Michelle J. Markley, Christian Teyssier, Michael A. Cosca, Renaud Caby, Johannes C. Hunziker, Mario Sartori

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We explore the timing of deformation and exhumation of the Siviez-Mischabel Nappe (western Swiss Alps) which has been considered a classic example of a midcrustal crystalline nappe since the studies of Argand [1916]. This study presents 40Ar/39Ar ages obtained on both synkinematic white mica from permo-Triassic cover sediments and more complex white mica populations from basement gneisses of the Siviez-Mischabel and middle Pennine Nappes. Primary foliation developed in cover units by nucleation, growth, and rigid rotation of mica grains during noncoaxial Alpine deformation. Although some samples show a crenulation of this primary foliation, mica growth appears to have occurred only during the dvelopment of primary foliation, the main phase of greenschist facies deformation related to imbrication of the Siviez-Mischabel Nappe and other middle Pennine Nappes. Good agreement exists between independent estimates of the timing of deformation and reported 40Ar/39Ar white mica ages from cover units of the central and southern Siviez-Mischabel Nappe. In cover units from the central and southern Siviez-Mischabel regions of the study area, 40Ar/39Ar ages appear to date synkinematic white mica growth. Results suggest that the Siviez-Mischabel Nappe was emplaced and developed foliation during a 5 m.y. period from 41 to 36 Ma. In cover units from the eastern Siviez-Mischabel, however, 40Ar/39Ar white mica ages appear to date postkinematic thermal events. These thermal events may be related to Oligocene magmatic activity in the lower Pennine Nappes or to Miocene development of the Simplon fault zone. Variations in the relation between Alpine age and grain size for cover samples from the central, eastern, and southern Siviez-Mischabel corelate well with the regional variations in temperature inferred from quartz microfabrics and the pattern of regional metamorphism. When considered in concert with other recent isotopic studies on the timing of major tectonic and thermal events in the western Swiss Alps, these data support arguments that the relative timing of events such as thrusting and back thrusting of crystalline nappes in hinterland units and exhumation of high-pressure units in the suture zone of the western Alps are intimately related and synchronous on the scale of a few million years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-425
Number of pages19
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1998

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