Structural, metamorphic and geochronological data from the Valle del'Orco are best explained by an orogenic wedge model in which crustal slices from continent and ocean acted as passive blocks at different times in the Alpine orogeny. Deformation generally migrated westwards in this section, and metamorphic recrystallization at any given point was largely controlled by the pervasiveness of strain. The data suggest a dynamic crustal stacking system lasting from 70 to 35 Ma, rather than continental collision following long-lived B-type subduction, and offer a relevant and simple model for eclogite exhumation that requires exhumation of ductile shear-bounded slices within the orogenic wedge.
The easternmost, internal unit of the Sesia-Lanzo Zone, the Eclogitic Micaschist Complex, was subducted and pervasively recrystallized under eclogite facies conditions during the early stages of convergence in the late Cretaceous. During the development of the major preserved structures, the eastern Eclogitic Micaschist Complex was undergoing general non-coaxial shear with an overall top-down to the east vorticity, suggesting a potential mechanism of exhuming an eclogitic 'pip'. Slices of pre-Alpine basement, the Vasario-Sparone Subunit, were incorporated into the lower (western) parts of this unit during the latest part of this phase, but do not show penetrative effects of the early Alpine deformation. They were passively folded during the early decompressional part of the P—T history, prior to the unit being juxtaposed against the underlying Gneiss Minuti Complex under blueschist-greenschist facies conditions. The Gneiss Minuti Complex itself was then recrystallized at high strain in the greenschist-facies in the latest Eocene. Fabrics developed at this stage indicate top-down-to-east extension which may have accommodated the exhumation of eclogitized Piemont oceanic material and the European continental material of the Gran Paradiso massif. Evidence of northwest-directed thrusting within the Gran Paradiso unit at the same time suggests again that the crustal block was transported on a deeper reverse-sense shear zone that presumably links to the more external thrusts now exposed to the west. High-pressure mineral lineations within the Piemont zone cannot be unequivocally assigned to either the burial or exhumation paths, but are consistent with the generally east-west transport directions observed in the structurally higher units.