Plate tectonics of the Alpine realm
New field data on the East Mediterranean domain suggest that this oceanic basin belonged to the larger Neotethyan oceanic system that opened in Permian times. A Greater Apulia domain existed in Mesozoic times, including the autochthonous units of Greece and SW Turkey. It also included a united Adria and Apulia microplate since Early Jurassic times. This key information implies that a new post-Variscan continental fit for the western Tethyan area is necessary, where the relationships between the Adriatic, Apulian and Iberian plates are defined with greater confidence. To construct a reliable palinspastic model of the Alpine realm, plate tectonic constraints must be taken into consideration in order to assess the magnitude of lateral displacements. For most of the plates and their different terranes, differential transport on the scale of thousands of kilometres can be demonstrated. This plate tectonic framework allows a better geodynamic scenario for the formation of the Alpine chain to be proposed, where the western and eastern transects have experienced contrasting geological evolutions. The eastern Alps–Carpathians domain evolved from the north-directed roll-back of the Maliac–Meliata slab and translation of the Meliata suture and Austroalpine domain into the Alpine domain. In the western Alps, the changing African plate boundary in space and time defined the interaction between the Iberian–Briançonnais plate and the Austroalpine accretionary wedge.
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Plate tectonics provide a unifying conceptual framework for the understanding of Phanerozoic orogens. More controversially, recent syntheses apply these principles as far back as the Early Archaean. Many ancient orogens are, however, poorly preserved and the processes responsible for them are not well understood. The effects of processes such as delamination, subduction of oceanic and aseismic ridges, overriding of plumes and subduction erosion are rarely identified in ancient orogens, although they have a profound effect on Cenozoic orogens. However, deeply eroded ancient orogens provide insights into the hidden roots of modern orogens. Recent advances in analytical techniques, as well as in fields such as geodynamics, have provided fresh insights into ancient orogenic belts, so that realistic modern analogies can now be applied. This Special Publication offers up-to-date reviews and models for some of the most important orogenic belts developed over the past 2.5 billion years of Earth history.