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Paleomagnetism and Tectonics

Since its birth as a science and the development of the first specialized laboratory during the ’50, paleomagnetism played a leading role in the birth and affirmation of global geodynamic models. This discipline has been crucial in the “revolution” of the Earth Sciences as it led, in the ’60, to the formulation of the “plates tectonics theory”, at first reviving the interest on the continental drift, abandoned after Alfred Wegener, subsequently validating the spreading of the oceanic floors. Since that time, paleomagnetism has commonly been used on studies of tectonic problems of different kinds, at both global and local scale, identifying movements of the main tectonic plates in which the lithosphere is divided, and defining the complex and widespread strain in the orogenic belts (as the whole Mediterranean area).
In particular, paleomagnetism has always been used in tectonic and geodynamic studies as a quantitative indicator of vertical axis rotations and translations in latitude of several crustal and lithospheric blocks (Figure 1).

Figure 1 

In Italy paleomagnetism has contributed significantly to the understanding of the geodynamic processes which led to the current geological setting of our country, identifying geological provinces with different geodynamic evolution and quantifying the amount and the sense of rotation which involved various sectors during geologic times (Figg. 2, 3). 


Figure 2Paleomagnetic rotations from the Northern Apennines measured in Messinian sediments


Figure 3Paleogeographic reconstruction of the central Mediterranean during late Langhian as suggested by paleomagnetic data from Sardinia and the Apennines

Since the formulation of a primitive concept of "rotation of the Italian peninsula" as a single rigid block disjointed from the major African plate, the contribution of new paleomagnetic data has gradually allowed to improve the understanding of the geodynamic processes that characterize the entire Central Mediterranean. The geodynamic framework that emerges from the last paleomagnetic studies in Italy, outlines a complex mosaic of distinct tectonic units subjected to differential movements (even very recently) with the development of curved mountain belts and extensional basins (Figg. 4, 5, 6).


Figure 4Rotation of the Corsica-Sardinia block and back-arc spreading in the central-western Mediterranean between 20 and 7 Ma


Figure 5Rotation of the Tertiary Piedmont Basin with respect to Africa from 35 Ma, and comparison with the rotation of the Corsica-Sardinia block (thick black line)


Figure 6click to enlargeSchematic 3D block diagram suggesting a possible kinematic reconstruction of the Alps-Apennines belt system and underlying slabs since the Late Oligocene

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