The Nummulitique : carbonate deposition in a foreland basin setting, Eocene, French Alps
The Eocene Nummulitique (Lutetian to Priabonian) has been studied in the external chains of the French Alps in Haute Savoie and Haute Provence. The Nummulitique unconformably overlies the Mesozoic passive margin succession and represents the onset of sedimentation in the Alpine Foreland Basin which formed due to lithospheric flexure caused by the advance of the Alpine orogeny. The base of the formation is marked by a regional erosional unconformity that developed during subaerial exposure of the Alpine foreland. The Nummulitique may be divided into two informal members: the lower Infranummulitique, a succession of terrigenous carbonates, and the overlying Nummulitic Limestone, a shallow marine carbonate ramp succession. The Infranummulitique is composed of terrigenous carbonates thought to have been derived from the uplifted and eroding foreland which were redeposited in local depocentres due to the topography on the erosion surface. The Infranummulitique can be divided into four facies associations: i) a lenticular conglomerate/nodular marl deposited from ephemeral streams, ii) a sheet conglomerate deposited in a marginal marine fan delta, iii) a Cerithium marl deposited in a brackish water coastal plain/lagoon and iv) a Microcodium wackestone deposited from coastal marine channels. The Nummulitic Limestone is marked by the appearance of the first fully marine foraminifera and a change from terrigenous to autochthonous carbonate sedimentation on a low-energy ramp dominated by larger benthonic foraminifera. The inner-ramp is represented by the deposition of bioclast shoals (packstones and grainstones) dominated by either calcareous red algae, Nummulites or peloids. The middle-ramp is dominated by mud-rich wackestones with a fauna of flat foraminifera, with local winnowed accumulations attributable to storm reworking. The outer ramp and basin are represented by mudstones and marls with a sparse benthos. The Nummulitique shows a marked cyclicity within an overall deepening upwards succession which is interpreted to be the combined effects of tectonic basin subsidence and high-frequency (4th order) eustatic sea-level variations. As the basin developed, the eustatic signature producing the small-scale cyclicity was successively overprinted by accelerating basin subsidence which controlled the stratigraphy of the underfilled foreland basin. Initially, the carbonate productivity is able to keep pace with the relative sea-level changes and the ramp prograded into the basin. The combination of accelerating subsidence rates and nutrient and detrital influx from the approaching orogenic wedge reduced the carbonate productivity and the ramp drowned, leading to pelagic marl deposition. The drowning surface and small-scale cyclicity have been used to correlate between measured sections within each field area, but problems occur in correlating between areas due to the migration of the foreland basin producing a diachronous sedimentary succession, which shows a similar development around the Alps, regardless of the age of the sediments. This diachroneity is evident in the two study areas with similar sediments, cycles and key surfaces developed at different stages of the basin development. The similarity in the successions demonstrates that the early sedimentation in the French Alpine Foreland Basin was controlled primarily by flexural subsidence.