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The arcuate form of the external western Alps was generated during Tertiary NW-directed collision between the Apulian indentor and the southward-subducting European passive margin. The evolution of peripheral syn-collisional depocentres around this arcuate orogen (in France and Switzerland) is reconstructed using a compilation of stratigraphic and tectonic data. This reveals fundamental changes in the flexural behaviour of the European lithosphere during collision. During early collision (Eocene), an increasingly arcuate, peripheral flexural basin migrated rapidly NW across the European plate. During peak collision (early Oligocene), frontal flexure, recorded in the North Alpine Foreland Basin (NAFB), steepened markedly, while lateral flexure of the European plate, affecting SE France, effectively ceased. Here, Oligocene sedimentation was confined to small thrust-sheet-top basins. Two rift systems initiating in the late Eocene, the West European rift system and the West Mediterranean oceanic basin (that created the Gulf of Lion passive margin), are superimposed in space and time on the outer margins of the alpine flexural depocentres. During waning collision (Mio-Pliocene) the NAFB became overfilled, then uplifted and abandoned while, in SE France, a local depocentre (Digne-Valensole) developed between uplifting blocks and continued to accumulate sediments until the late Pliocene.

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