The origin of the Cantabrian orocline of the Variscan orogen in NW Iberia remains a topic of debate. We present a structural study of the Ponga Unit, a Cambrian to Carboniferous tectonostratigraphic package within the West European Variscan belt foreland fold-and-thrust belt that lies within the core region of the orocline. Our primary goal was to determine if W-plunging folds of the fold-and-thrust belt are attributable to formation of the Cantabrian orocline, or if they reflect lateral ramps in the underlying Variscan thrust faults.
The major lithologic units of the Ponga Unit are the rheologically competent Lower Ordovician Barrios quartzite, and the less-competent, Carboniferous Barcaliente limestone and Beleño shale and sandstone formation. Our mapping and structural analysis within the Ponga Unit focused on the Laviana, Rioseco, and Campo de Caso thrust sheets, and associated bounding thrusts. Over 800 structural orientation measurements were collected across the study area. These data, coupled with data compiled from regional geological maps, allow for analysis of the crustal structure. West-plunging folds of the Laviana, Rioseco, and Campo de Caso thrust sheets form kilometer-scale anticline-syncline pairs, producing a complex fold interference pattern that is characteristic of the Ponga Unit. Our analysis shows that: (1) the geometry of the W-plunging folds is inconsistent with a lateral ramp model; (2) the map pattern defines a mushroom-type fold interference pattern, indicating two distinct deformational events characterized by principal compressive stresses oriented at a high angle (perpendicular) to one another; and (3) paleomagnetic data from the study area are consistent with the secondary model of orocline formation and indicate that there was a short window of time between the end of Variscan orogenesis and the onset of oroclinal buckling. Our results indicate that early N-S–trending folds, which resulted from Variscan orogenesis, were refolded during a post-Variscan orogen-parallel compression event attributable to formation of the Cantabrian orocline.
- Received 23 May 2016.
- Revision received 31 July 2016.
- Accepted 7 October 2016.
- © Geological Society of America