Abstract

The final stages of the Variscan orogeny (mostly Carboniferous) in the Western European Variscan belt involved the development of the Iberian-Armorican arc, which is cored by the Cantabrian zone (NW Iberia). The Cantabrian zone is the foreland of the Western European Variscan belt, and it is interpreted to record the waning stages of the closure of the Rheic Ocean. The distalmost tectonic units within the Cantabrian zone (the Cuera Unit and the Picos de Europa Province) were the last tectonic units emplaced at the core of the Western European Variscan belt orocline. Together, they form an imbricate system and associated wedge-top basins that are key to understanding the development of the orocline. The emplacement of the Cuera Unit and the Picos de Europa Province occurred in the latest Pennsylvanian, between Moscovian and Gzhelian times. New detailed mapping together with stratigraphic, sedimentologic, and biostratigraphic data analysis of syntectonic successions and structural information constrain the timing and evolution of this imbricate system. Our analysis indicates that the thrust sheets were emplaced roughly perpendicular to previous tectonic units of the Cantabrian Variscan foreland fold-and-thrust belt, most probably during the oroclinal bending of the SW European Variscan belt that formed the Iberian-Armorican arc. The N-S–directed imbricate system was characterized by a shallow dip of the topographic surface (α < 1°), allowing for the development of wedge-top basins. The large amount of shortening (>150 ± 15 km) and complex structure of the orogenic wedge are thought to result from the progressive increase in the dip of the basal décollement during bending of the underlying Gondwana lithosphere and may reflect the closure of the Iberian-Armorican arc.

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