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Steeply-tilted layers of flysch on the coast at Zumaia, Spain Zumaiako flysch-a.jpg
Steeply-tilted layers of flysch on the coast at Zumaia, Spain

Flysch ( /flɪʃ/ ) is a sequence of sedimentary rock layers that progress from deep-water and turbidity flow deposits to shallow-water shales and sandstones. It is deposited when a deep basin forms rapidly on the continental side of a mountain building episode. Examples are found near the North American Cordillera, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Carpathians.


Sedimentological properties

Flysch consists of repeated sedimentary cycles with upwards fining of the sediments. There are sometimes coarse conglomerates or breccias at the bottom of each cycle, which gradually evolve upwards into sandstone and shale/mudstone. Flysch typically consists of a sequence of shales rhythmically interbedded with thin, hard, graywacke-like sandstones. Typically the shales do not contain many fossils, while the coarser sandstones often have fractions of micas and glauconite.


In a continental collision, a subducting tectonic plate pushes on the plate above it, making the rock fold, often to the point where thrust faults form, and a mountain chain rises. On the upper plate, the land between the mountains and the undeformed continent bends downward, forming a foreland basin. If the basin forms slowly, as in the northern Appalachians, it fills with shallow-water sediments. [1] If it forms rapidly, as in the east side of the North American Cordillera, then sea water may rush in, and the first sedimentary deposits are deep water deposits. If the mountain slope is steep enough at the edge of the basin, it will shed material in rapidly moving sedimentary flows called turbidity currents, resulting in turbidite deposits. As the basin fills up, shallow-water sandstones and continental deposits form. [1] [2] Most of the resulting rocks have little deformation, but near the edge of the mountain chain they can be subject to folding and thrusting. [1] After the basin fills up, continental sediments (molasse) are deposited on top of the flysch. [2]

Name and use

Carpathian flysch Carpathian flysch cm03.jpg
Carpathian flysch

The name flysch was introduced in geologic literature by the Swiss geologist Bernhard Studer in 1827. Studer used the term for the typical alternations of sandstone and shale in the foreland of the Alps. The name comes from the German word fliessen, which means to flow, because Studer thought flysch was deposited by rivers. The insight that flysch is actually a deep marine sediment typical for a particular plate tectonic setting came only much later. [3]

The name flysch is currently used in many mountain chains belonging to the Alpine belt. Well-known flysch deposits are found in the forelands of the Pyrenees and Carpathians and in tectonically similar regions in Italy, the Balkans and on Cyprus. In the northern Alps, the Flysch is also a lithostratigraphic unit.

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Sedimentary rock Rock formed by the deposition and subsequent cementation of material

Sedimentary rocks are types of rock that are formed by the accumulation or deposition of mineral or organic particles at the Earth's surface, followed by cementation. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause these particles to settle in place. The particles that form a sedimentary rock are called sediment, and may be composed of geological detritus (minerals) or biological detritus. The geological detritus originated from weathering and erosion of existing rocks, or from the solidification of molten lava blobs erupted by volcanoes. The geological detritus is transported to the place of deposition by water, wind, ice or mass movement, which are called agents of denudation. Biological detritus was formed by bodies and parts of dead aquatic organisms, as well as their fecal mass, suspended in water and slowly piling up on the floor of water bodies. Sedimentation may also occur as dissolved minerals precipitate from water solution.

The Alps form part of a Cenozoic orogenic belt of mountain chains, called the Alpide belt, that stretches through southern Europe and Asia from the Atlantic all the way to the Himalayas. This belt of mountain chains was formed during the Alpine orogeny. A gap in these mountain chains in central Europe separates the Alps from the Carpathians to the east. Orogeny took place continuously and tectonic subsidence has produced the gaps in between.

Sedimentary basin Regions of long-term subsidence creating space for infilling by sediments

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Turbidite The geologic deposit of a turbidity current

A turbidite is the geologic deposit of a turbidity current, which is a type of amalgamation of fluidal and sediment gravity flow responsible for distributing vast amounts of clastic sediment into the deep ocean.

Molasse A type of sedimentary rock deposit associated with the formation of mountain chains.

The term "molasse" refers to sandstones, shales and conglomerates that form as terrestrial or shallow marine deposits in front of rising mountain chains. The molasse deposits accumulate in a foreland basin, especially on top of flysch-like deposits, for example, those that left from the rising Alps, or erosion in the Himalaya. These deposits are typically the non-marine alluvial and fluvial sediments of lowlands, as compared to deep-water flysch sediments. Sedimentation stops when the orogeny stops, or when the mountains have eroded flat.

Geology of Europe

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The Windermere Supergroup is a geological unit formed during the Ordovician to Silurian periods ~450 million years ago, and exposed in northwest England, including the Pennines and correlates along its strike, in the Isle of Man and Ireland, and down-dip in the Southern Uplands and Welsh Borderlands. It underlies much of north England's younger cover, extending south to East Anglia. It formed as a foreland basin, in a similar setting to the modern Ganges basin, fronting the continent of Avalonia as the remains of the attached Iapetus ocean subducted under Laurentia.

Helvetic (geology)

The Helvetic zone, Helvetic system or the Helveticum is a geologic subdivision of the Alps. The Helvetic zone crops out mainly in Switzerland, hence the name. Rocks in the Helvetic zone are sedimentary and were originally deposited at the southern margin of the European plate. The Helvetic zone correlates with the French Dauphinois zone, French geologists often prefer the French name but normally this is considered the same thing.

Molasse basin A foreland basin north of the Alps

The Molasse basin is a foreland basin north of the Alps which formed during the Oligocene and Miocene epochs. The basin formed as a result of the flexure of the European plate under the weight of the orogenic wedge of the Alps that was forming to the south.

Foreland basin A structural basin that develops adjacent and parallel to a mountain belt

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In geology, clastic wedge usually refers to a thick assemblage of sediments--often lens-shaped in profile--eroded and deposited landward of a mountain chain; they begin at the mountain front, thicken considerably landwards of it to a peak depth, and progressively thin with increasing distance inland. Perhaps the best examples of clastic wedges in the United States are the Catskill Delta in Appalachia and the sequence of Jurassic and Cretaceous sediments deposited in the Cordilleran foreland basin in the Rocky Mountain region.

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Rhenohercynian Zone A fold belt of west and central Europe, formed during the Hercynian orogeny

The Rhenohercynian Zone or Rheno-Hercynian zone in structural geology describes a fold belt of west and central Europe, formed during the Hercynian orogeny. The zone consists of folded and thrusted Devonian and early Carboniferous sedimentary rocks that were deposited in a back-arc basin along the southern margin of the then existing paleocontinent Laurussia.

Aquitaine Basin

The Aquitaine Basin is the second largest Mesozoic and Cenozoic sedimentary basin in France after the Paris Basin, occupying a large part of the country's southwestern quadrant. Its surface area covers 66,000 km2 onshore. It formed on Variscan basement which was peneplained during the Permian and then started subsiding in the early Triassic. The basement is covered in the Parentis Basin and in the Subpyrenean Basin—both sub-basins of the main Aquitaine Basin—by 11,000 m of sediment.

Geology of the Western Carpathians

The Western Carpathians are an arc-shaped mountain range, the northern branch of the Alpine-Himalayan fold and thrust system called the Alpide belt, which evolved during the Alpine orogeny. In particular, their pre-Cenozoic evolution is very similar to that of the Eastern Alps, and they constitute a transition between the Eastern Alps and the Eastern Carpathians.

Geology of the Pyrenees European regional geology

The Pyrenees are a 430-kilometre-long, roughly east–west striking, intracontinental mountain chain that divide France, Spain, and Andorra. The belt has an extended, polycyclic geological evolution dating back to the Precambrian. The chain's present configuration is due to the collision between the microcontinent Iberia and the southwestern promontory of the European Plate. The two continents were approaching each other since the onset of the Upper Cretaceous (Albian/Cenomanian) about 100 million years ago and were consequently colliding during the Paleogene (Eocene/Oligocene) 55 to 25 million years ago. After its uplift, the chain experienced intense erosion and isostatic readjustments. A cross-section through the chain shows an asymmetric flower-like structure with steeper dips on the French side. The Pyrenees are not solely the result of compressional forces, but also show an important sinistral shearing.

Carpathian Flysch Belt Tectonic zone in the Carpathian Mountains

The Carpathian Flysch Belt is an arcuate tectonic zone included in the megastructural elevation of the Carpathians on the external periphery of the mountain chain. Geomorphologically it is a portion of Outer Carpathians. Geologically it is a thin-skinned thrust belt or accretionary wedge, formed by rootles nappes consisting of so-called flysch - alternating marine deposits of claystones, shales and sandstones which were detached from their substratum and moved tens of kilometers to the north (generally). The Flysch Belt is together with Neogene volcanic complexes only tectonic zone occurring along the whole Carpathian arc.

Geology of Germany Overview of the geology of Germany

The geology of Germany is heavily influenced by several phases of orogeny in the Paleozoic and the Cenozoic, by sedimentation in shelf seas and epicontinental seas and on plains in the Permian and Mesozoic as well as by the Quaternary glaciations.

The geology of Iraq includes thick sequences of marine and continental sedimentary rocks over poorly understood basement rock, at the junction of the Arabian Plate, the Anatolian Plate, and the Iranian Plate.

Geology of Italy Overview of the geology of Italy

The geology of Italy includes mountain ranges such as the Alps, the Dolomites and the Apennines formed from the uplift of igneous and primarily marine sedimentary rocks all formed since the Paleozoic. Some active volcanoes are located in Insular Italy.


  1. 1 2 3 Moores, Eldridge M.; Twiss, Robert J. (2000). Tectonics (3rd print ed.). New York: Freeman. pp. 265–266. ISBN   0716724375.
  2. 1 2 Einsele, Gerhard (2000). Sedimentary Basins : Evolution, Facies, and Sediment Budget (2nd ed.). Berlin: Springer. pp.  210–211. ISBN   9783540661931.
  3. Labhart, Toni P. (2005). Geologie der Schweiz[Geology of Switzerland] (in German) (7th ed.). Bern: Ott Verlag. p. 64. ISBN   3-7225-0007-9.

Further reading