The structural history of the Mont Blanc massif with regard to models for its recent exhumation

Egli, Daniel ; Mancktelow, Neil

In: Swiss Journal of Geosciences, 2013, vol. 106, no. 3, p. 469–489

The tectonic evolution of the Mont Blanc range with regard to its cooling and exhumation history has been discussed and debated over many years and is still controversial. Recently, several low-temperature thermochronology studies have determined the cooling history of the massif in considerable detail and various tectonic models proposed to explain the young and fast exhumation signal... More

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    Summary
    The tectonic evolution of the Mont Blanc range with regard to its cooling and exhumation history has been discussed and debated over many years and is still controversial. Recently, several low-temperature thermochronology studies have determined the cooling history of the massif in considerable detail and various tectonic models proposed to explain the young and fast exhumation signal established from these studies. Here we present detailed field data from the wider Mont Blanc area and assess possible exhumation processes in terms of these field constraints. Our observations indicate that none of the major faults or shear zones around the Mont Blanc massif (i.e. Mont Blanc shear zone, Mont Blanc back-thrust, Penninic thrust) was active in Late Neogene times and that young exhumation is therefore not controlled by movements along these structures. We demonstrate that the position of Mont Blanc in the bend of the western Alps plays an important role in its tectonic history and that simple 2D models are insufficient to explain its evolution. Interference between NW–SE compression and orogen-parallel extension along the Rhône- Simplon fault system resulted in a complex regional structural pattern, with strike-slip movements on both sides of the Mont Blanc massif. Young brittle faults are predominantly strike slip without significant vertical offset. The young (<2 Ma) rapid exhumation of Mont Blanc is more broadly distributed and cannot be directly linked to discrete faults bounding the massif. The mechanisms driving this recent accelerated exhumation must similarly be of broader scale.