The retrobelts of doubly vergent collisional orogens are classically interpreted as late-stage postcollisional features. Here, we integrate literature data with new structural and thermochronological evidence from the European Alps in order to document the precollisional development of the retrobelt segment exposed in the central southern Alps. During the Late Cretaceous, by inversion of inherited extensional faults of Permian age, the Variscan basement of the central southern Alps was stacked southward onto the Permian−Mesozoic cover sequences of the Adria margin. These thrust systems were first deformed within regional-scale antiforms (the “Orobic anticlines”) and then cut by Eocene magmatic bodies. Our apatite fission-track data show that these units were largely structured and exhumed to shallow crustal levels before the intrusion of the Eocene magmatic rocks. Therefore, thrusting and folding in the Alpine retrobelt took place before the final closure of the Alpine Tethys and subsequent continental collision between Adria and Europe. Final exhumation and uplift in the northern part of the Southalpine retrobelt took place under a dextral transpressional regime largely coeval with the right-lateral strike-slip activity along the Insubric fault. In Neogene times, deformation propagated southward, leading to the formation of a frontal thrust belt that is largely buried beneath the Po Plain.
- Received 22 May 2015.
- Revision received 19 August 2015.
- Accepted 4 September 2015.
- © 2015 Geological Society of America