Articles | Volume 9, issue 6
Research article
21 Dec 2018
Research article |  | 21 Dec 2018

From widespread Mississippian to localized Pennsylvanian extension in central Spitsbergen, Svalbard

Jean-Baptiste P. Koehl and Jhon M. Muñoz-Barrera

Abstract. In the Devonian–Carboniferous, a rapid succession of clustered extensional and contractional tectonic events is thought to have affected sedimentary rocks in central Spitsbergen, Svalbard. These events include Caledonian post-orogenic extensional collapse associated with the formation of thick Early–Middle Devonian basins, Late Devonian–Mississippian Ellesmerian contraction, and Early–Middle Pennsylvanian rifting, which resulted in the deposition of thick sedimentary units in Carboniferous basins like the Billefjorden Trough. The clustering of these varied tectonic settings sometimes makes it difficult to resolve the tectono-sedimentary history of individual stratigraphic units. Notably, the context of deposition of Mississippian clastic and coal-bearing sedimentary rocks of the Billefjorden Group is still debated, especially in central Spitsbergen. We present field evidence (e.g., growth strata and slickensides) from the northern part of the Billefjorden Trough, in Odellfjellet, suggesting that tilted Mississippian sedimentary strata of the Billefjorden Group deposited during active (Late/latest?) Mississippian extension. WNW–ESE-striking basin-oblique faults showing Mississippian growth strata systematically die out upwards within Mississippian to lowermost Pennsylvanian strata, thus suggesting a period of widespread WNW–ESE-directed extension in the Mississippian and an episode of localized extension in Early–Middle Pennsylvanian times. In addition, the presence of abundant basin-oblique faults in basement rocks adjacent to the Billefjorden Trough suggests that the formation of Mississippian normal faults was partly controlled by reactivation of preexisting Neoproterozoic (Timanian?) basement-seated fault zones. We propose that these preexisting faults reactivated as transverse or accommodation cross faults in or near the crest of transverse folds reflecting differential displacement along the Billefjorden Fault Zone. In Cenozoic times, a few margin-oblique faults (e.g., the Overgangshytta fault) may have mildly reactivated as oblique thrusts during transpression–contraction, but shallow-dipping, bedding-parallel, duplex-shaped décollements in shales of the Billefjorden Group possibly prevented substantial movement along these faults.

Short summary
This research is dedicated to the study of poorly understood coal-bearing Mississippian (ca. 360–325 Ma) sedimentary rocks in central Spitsbergen. Our results suggest that these rocks were deposited during a period of widespread extension involving multiple fault trends, including faults striking subparallel to the extension direction, while overlying Pennsylvanian rocks (ca. 325–300 Ma) were deposited during extension localized along fewer, larger faults.