Facies analysis of the Dürrenstein Formation, central-eastern Dolomites, northern Italy, indicates that this unit was deposited on a carbonate ramp, as evidenced by the lack of a shelf break, slope facies, or a reef margin, together with the occurrence of a "molechfor" biological association. Its deposition following the accumulation of rimmed carbonate platforms during the Ladinian and Early Carnian marks a major shift in growth mode of the Triassic shallow marine carbonates in the Dolomites.
The Dürrenstein Formation is characterized by a hierarchical cyclicity, with elements strongly suggestive of an allocyclic origin, including (a) subaerial exposure features directly above subtidal facies within meter-scale cyclothems, (b) purely subtidal carbonate cyclothems, (c) symmetric peritidal carbonate cyclothems, and (d) continuity of cyclothems of different orders through facies boundaries. The Dürrenstein cyclothems are usually defined by transgressive and regressive successions, and so most of them probably originated from sea-level oscillations. Their allocyclic origin allows their use for high-resolution correlations over distances up to 30 km.
A stratigraphic section in the Tre Cime di Lavaredo area, encompassing the upper part of the Dürrenstein Formation and the lower part of the overlying Raibl Formation (Upper Carnian) was studied using time-frequency analysis. A strong Milankovitch signal appeared when interference arising from a variable sedimentation rate was estimated and removed by tuning the short precession line in a spectrogram. All of the principal periodicities related to the precession index and eccentricity, calculated for 220 Ma, are present: P1 (21.9 ky); P2 (17.8 ky); E1 (400 ky), E2 (95 ky), and E3 (125 ky), along with a peak at a frequency double that of the precession, which is a predicted feature of orbitally forced insolation at the equator. Components possibly related to Earth's obliquity at ca. 35 ky and ca. 46 ky are present as well. The recovery of Milankovitch periodicities allows reconstruction of a high-resolution timescale that is in good agreement with published durations of the Carnian based on radiometric ages.
The recognition of a Milankovitch signal in the Dürrenstein and lower Raibl formations, as well as in other Mesozoic carbonate platforms, strongly supports a deterministic and predictable—rather than stochastic—control on the formation of carbonate platforms. Carbonate platforms might thus be used in the future for the construction of an astronomical time scale for the Mesozoic.