The Importance of Rift Inheritance in Understanding the Early Collisional Evolution of the Western Alps

Gianreto Manatschal, Pauline Chenin, Isabelle Haupert, Emmanuel Masini, Gianluca Frasca, Alessandro Decarlis

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3 Scopus citations


We reassess the architecture and tectonic history of the Western Alps based on recent knowledge developed at rifted margins. First, we replace the main Alpine units of our study area into a synthetic rifted margin template based on diagnostic petrologic, stratigraphic, and structural criteria. We find that some units previously attributed to the internal part of the thick-crusted Briançonnais domain may rather derive from the thin-crusted Prepiemonte hyperextended domain. We assert that the Briançonnais and Prepiemonte domains were separated by a mega-fault scarp. Second, we revisit the Paleogeography of the Alpine Tethys, suggesting that the Briançonnais was a ribbon of little thinned continental crust between two overstepping en-échelon rift basins, namely the Valais domain to the northwest and the Piemonte domain to the southeast. We affirm that this uneven-margin architecture can explain most of the Western Alps’ complexity. In our kinematic model, convergence between Adria and Europe was mainly accommodated by strike-slip movements in the Western Alps until the late Eocene. Orogeny began with the reactivation of the mega-fault scarp between the Briançonnais and Prepiemonte domains, which we name Prepiemonte Basal Thrust. Once hard collision started, the main shortening stepped inboard into the Valais/Subbriançonnais domain along the Penninic Basal Thrust.

Original languageBritish English
Article number434
JournalGeosciences (Switzerland)
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Briançonnais
  • collisional orogen
  • Prepiemonte
  • reactivation
  • rift inheritance
  • Western Alps


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