Mesozoic Alpine facies deposition as a result of past latitudinal plate motion
The fragmentation of Pangaea as a consequence of the opening of the Atlantic Ocean is documented in the Alpine-Mediterranean region by the onset of widespread pelagic sedimentation1. Shallow-water sediments were replaced by mainly pelagic limestones in the Early Jurassic period, radiolarian cherts in the Middle-Late Jurassic period, and again pelagic limestones in the Late Jurassic-Cretaceous period. During initial extension, basin subsidence below the carbonate compensation depth (CCD) is thought to have triggered the transition from Early Jurassic limestones to Middle-Late Jurassic radiolarites. It has been proposed that the transition from radiolarites to limestones in the Late Jurassic period was due to an increase in calcareous nannoplankton abundance when the CCD was depressed below the ocean floor. But in modern oceans, sediments below the CCD are not necessarily radiolaritic. Here we present palaeomagnetic samples from the Jurassic-Cretaceous pelagic succession exposed in the Lombardian basin, Italy. On the basis of an analysis of our palaeolatitudinal data in a broader palaeogeographic context, we propose an alternative explanation for the above facies tripartition. We suggest that the Lombardian basin drifted initially towards, and subsequently away from, a near-equatorial upwelling zone of high biosiliceous productivity. Our tectonic model for the genesis of radiolarites adds an essential horizontal plate motion component to explanations involving only vertical variations of CCD relative to the ocean floor. It may explain the deposition of radiolarites throughout the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region during the Jurassic period.
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