The Austroalpine and Upper Penninic nappes in eastern Switzerland represent a passive continental margin and the adjacent ocean of Jurassic-Cretaceous age, imbricated by Late Cretaceous-Tertiary orogenic shortening. Well-preserved, rift-related faults allow reconstruction of the passive margin and ocean-continent transition zone and yield new information on the kinematics of rifting. Rifting evolved from pure-shear stretching to detachment-controlled, asymmetric stretching and resulted in complete exhumation of subcontinental mantle rocks at the sea floor.
After precursory normal faulting in the Late Triassic, Jurassic rifting occurred in two phases. During the first rifting phase (Hettangian-Sinemurian), predominantly east-dipping normal faults developed in the upper crust; their dips decreased in the middle to lower crust, where they probably graded into anastomosing shear zones in the lower crust and mantle lithosphere. The resulting overall geometry approximated pure-shear stretching. During the second rifting phase (Toarcian-Middle Jurassic), a system of west-dipping detachment faults formed, penetrating the whole lithosphere and accommodating asymmetric extension. During progressive stretching, subcontinental mantle rocks were tectonically exhumed and exposed at the sea floor in two areas, represented by the Platta and Malenco nappes (Penninic). The intervening Margna and Sella continental nappes are interpreted as an extensional allochthon belonging to the Apulian margin. Finally, a mid-ocean ridge may have formed west of the Margna-Sella allochthon. The Austroalpine realm thus represents the lower-plate margin—and the Briançonnais, the upper-plate margin-of the Piemont-Liguria ocean. This scenario is in qualitative agreement with the subsidence histories of the two margins.