Abstract

The eclogite facies Zermatt-Saas ophiolite in the Western Alps includes a composite chaotic unit exposed in the Lake Miserin area, in the southern Aosta Valley region. The chaotic unit is characterized by a block-in-matrix texture consisting of ultramafic clasts and blocks embedded within a carbonate matrix. This unit overlies massive serpentinite and ophicarbonate rocks and is unconformably overlain by layered calcschist. Despite the effects of subduction and collision-related deformation and metamorphism, the internal stratigraphy and architecture of the chaotic unit are recognizable and are attributed to different types of mass transport processes in the Jurassic Ligurian-Piedmont Ocean. This finding represents an exceptional record of the preorogenic history of the Alpine ophiolites, marked by different pulses of extensional tectonics responsible for the rough seafloor topography characterized by structural highs exposed to submarine erosion. The Jurassic tectonostratigraphic setting envisioned is comparable to that observed in present-day magma-poor slow- and ultraslow-spreading ridges, characterized by mantle exposure along fault scarps that trigger mass transport deposits and turbiditic sedimentation. Our preorogenic reconstruction is significant in an eclogitized collisional orogenic belt in which chaotic rock units may be confused with the exclusive product of subduction-related tectonics, thus obscuring the record of an important preorogenic history.

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