Structural and microstructural analyses of the Argentat fault, combined with sedimentological and structural analyses of the associated Hospital basin allow us to discuss the tectonic control of coal basins by crustal-scale faults during the late Palaeozoic evolution of the Variscan lithosphere in the French Massif Central. The brittle Argentat fault zone consists of first- and second-order strike-slip faults, with dominant NNW-sinistral faults, NNE-dextral or sinistral faults and secondary ENE-dextral faults. Several experimental and theoretical models explain the observed fault patterns, like en echelon faults, A-type secondary faults, conjugate faults and Riedel shears. Strike-slip faulting is responsible for folding of the metamorphic formations characterized by N-S to NE-SW-trending axis. The regional-scale geometry of brittle faults and associated folds corresponds to a positive flower structure centered on the brittle Argentat fault, combined to a negative flower structure centered on the coal basin. Using tectonic inversion software, we show that these structures result from a left-lateral movement of the brittle Argentat fault in relation to a tectonic regime intermediate between extension and strike-slip, with a horizontal NE-SW to NNE-SSW-trending maximum stretching axis. Detailed map and cross-sections, and sedimentological interpretations of the late Stephanian Hospital basin show the occurrence of intra-basin syn-sedimentary strike-slip faults and progressive overlaying, indicating that sedimentation occurs during left-lateral strike-slip faulting and folding of basement along the Argentat fault. These data are consistent with a model of N-S to NE-SW-trending postorogenic extension proposed to account for the late Carboniferous evolution of the Variscan lithosphere. They also point out the complexity and the variety of structures developed along a regional brittle strike-slip fault zone and the necessity to take into account all the structures and the resulting geometry of the basement in order to better constrain the tectonic setting of intra-continental deposits.

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