Abstract

Molasse is a distinctive sedimentary facies consisting of alluvial and shallow marine deposits derived from source areas undergoing rapid uplift and erosion. The characteristic setting of molasse is within or adjacent to fold belts, and most molasse basins can be classified as foreland basin (external) or intermontane (internal) in type. Thick alluvial and shallow marine sequences in cratonic settings (e.g., taphrogenic troughs) have been classified as molasse by some workers, but this is not generally accepted.Most molasse is synorogenic, and the interdependence of sedimentation and tectonism results in structural and stratigraphic complexity. Intermontane basins generally are tensional in origin and are bounded by high angle (commonly normal) faults. Facies distributions adjacent to each fault depend on relative rates of differential movement, erosion, and sedimentation; accelerated source area uplift causes segmentation and progradation of alluvial fans and generates coarsening-upward sedimentary cycles. Complications are introduced if tectonism occurs in discrete pulses and if basins enlarge themselves along systems of stepped faults.Basins of compressional origin, such as those in a foreland setting, show a greater variety of internal complexity. Facies belts and trends of maximum thickness move progressively out from the core of the fold belt in response to a migration of the zone of active deformation. Conversely, broad structural warps may develop in response to a locally increased sedimentary load, such as a major delta. Folds or thrust faults growing within the basin cause local thinning or unconformable relationships, and may breach the surface so as to isolate parts of the alluvial plain as a synorogenic intermontane basin. Uplift of the fold belt may be discontinuous, causing the generation of stacked sedimentary megacycles. Basin margins commonly are characterized by intraformational angular unconformities and syndepositional folds.Rates of alluvial sedimentation and tectonic movement measured in modern environments are one to two orders of magnitude higher than rates deduced from ancient nonmarine sequences. This lends support to the idea that much sedimentation may be very episodic in nature, but it could also imply that alluvial sequences are deposited much more rapidly than current interpretations of the ancient record would imply, based as they are on relatively crude dating techniques. Only in some wrench-fault basins do calculated sedimentation rates compare with those measured in modern environments.

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