05 Dec 2022
05 Dec 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Unraveling the burial and exhumation history of foreland basins using the spread of apatite (U-Th-Sm)/He single grain ages

Kevin Alexander Frings1,2, Elco Luijendijk3, István Dunkl4, Peter Kukla5, Nicolas Villamizar-Escalante2, Herfried Madritsch6,a, and Christoph von Hagke2 Kevin Alexander Frings et al.
  • 1Institute for Tectonics and Geodynamics, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, 52064, Germany
  • 2Department of Environment and Biodiversity, Division of Geology & Physical Geography, Salzburg University PLUS, Salzburg, 5020, Austria
  • 3Department of Earth Science, University of Bergen, Bergen, 5020, Norway
  • 4Geoscience Center, Department of Sedimentology and Environmental Geology, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, 37077, Germany
  • 5Geological Institute, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, 52062, Germany
  • 6Nagra, Wettingen, 5430, Switzerland
  • anow at: Swisstopo, Swiss Geological Survey, Seftigenstrasse 264, 3084 Wabern

Abstract. Reconstructing the evolution of foreland basins that experienced late exhumation is challenging due to an incomplete sedimentary record. Thermochronometry has been applied successfully to reconstruct basin evolution, but the method is subject to uncertainties. For the Swiss Molasse Basin, a wide range of exhumation magnitude and timing has been proposed based on thermochronometry. We aim to reduce uncertainty by dating larger numbers of grains and samples, to obtain statistically more robust data. New apatite (U-Th-Sm)/He (AHe) data from a single borehole shows ages of 4 to 30 Ma in the upper 500 meters and ages of 3 to 80 Ma below 1300 meters. This is counterintuitive as a total reset is expected at depths exceeding approximately 600 m. To arrive at a single consistent thermal history including our and previously published data, we conduct thermal modeling with different software. In particular we test the influence of different provenance histories and distinguish between cooling associated with changes in heat flow vs changes in exhumation.

We determine 1050 m +/- 100 m of exhumation, starting slowly at 13 Ma and accelerating at 9 Ma. Coinciding with exhumation, heat flow begins to rise sharply, causing heating until 5 Ma, despite ongoing exhumation. We show that this discrepancy between start of exhumation and start of cooling is the main reason for differing estimates for the burial and exhumation history of the basin. We suggest that the remaining misfit between modeled and measured Molasse AHe ages can be explained by post-Miocene hydrothermal flux in the Neogene sediment fill above a sealing layer, potentially the Opalinus Clay or Triassic evaporites.

In summary, we show that a single consistent model for basin exhumation relies on large sets of grains and samples, as well as inclusion of provenance ages in the models. With timing of the main exhumation phase constrained to start at 9 Ma, we can rule out a 5 Ma climatic event as exhumation driver. As the region is not affected by extensive faulting, deep seated processes related to mantle dynamics remain as exhumation driving process.

Kevin Alexander Frings et al.

Status: open (until 09 Feb 2023)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1323', Anonymous Referee #1, 12 Jan 2023 reply

Kevin Alexander Frings et al.

Kevin Alexander Frings et al.


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Short summary
We use apatite (U-Th-Sm)/He thermochronologic on detrital grains sampled from a well to unravel the exhumation history of the northern Swiss Molasse Basin and reconcile seemingly contradicting previous studies. With single grain ages and provenance ages, we achieve to narrowly constrain exhumation magnitude and timing and embed previous results into a single consistent thermal history. This includes proof for hydrothermal activity and a contribution to the discussion on exhumation drivers.