Abstract

Upper Lutetian–Bartonian sedimentary mélanges, corresponding to ancient mud-rich submarine mass transport deposits, are widely distributed over an area c. 300 km long and tens of kilometres wide along the exhumed outer part of the External Ligurian accretionary wedge in the Northern Apennines. The occurrence of methane-derived carbonate concretions (septarians) in a specific tectonostratigraphic position below these sedimentary mélanges allows us to document the relationships among a significant period of regional-scale slope failure, climate change (the Early and Mid-Eocene Optimum stages), the dissociation of gas hydrates and accretionary tectonics during the Ligurian Tectonic Phase (early–mid-Lutetian). The distribution of septarians at the core of thrust-related anticlines suggests that the dissociation of gas hydrates was triggered by accretionary tectonics rather than climate change. The different ages of slope failure emplacement and the formation of the septarians support the view that the dissociation of gas hydrates was not the most important trigger for slope failure. The latter occurred during a tectonic quiescence stage associated with a regressive depositional trend, and probably minor residual tectonic pulses, which followed the Ligurian Tectonic Phase, favouring the dynamic re-equilibrium of the External Ligurian accretionary wedge. Our findings provide useful information for a better understanding of the factors controlling giant slope failure events in modern accretionary settings, where they may cause tsunamis.

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