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The Carboniferous (359.2–299 Ma, Gradstein et al. 2004) succession of Central Europe records one of the most important time periods with respect to European geology, since it marks the final collision of Gondwana with the northern continent of Laurussia (i.e. Laurentia, Baltica and Avalonia). Oblique convergence resulted in collisional processes which created a mountain belt extending from Russia, through western Europe and into North America. The climax of the Variscan Orogeny was the formation of the supercontinent Pangaea leaving a relict Palaeo-tethys to the east (Scotese & Langford 1995) (Fig. 9.1). The Variscan belt is a broad (c. 1000 km) complex curvilinear feature extending across Europe and marking the zones of Variscan-age deformation (Figs 9.2 & 9.3). The final phase of Variscan activity was also a period of terrane mobility and tectonic instability in the Central European region with sinistral wrench faulting causing widespread rifting of the northern European crust (Pegrum 1984a, b; Ziegler 1990).

The Carboniferous succession in Central Europe is generally dominated by marine sediments (both clastic and carbonate) in the lower part of the succession¨ The clastic sediments tend to be deeper-water shelf or turbiditic successions, although in some areas (e.g. Belgium, northern Germany) limestones are locally important or even dominant, particularly during the Tournaisian and Visean. In late Carboniferous times, successions are predominantly continental with some coal-bearing units being deposited (particularly in Westphalian times). An exception to the dominantly sedimentary record is provided

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