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Schematic overview of an eroded thrust system. The shaded material is the nappe. The erosional hole is called a window or fenster. The klippe is the isolated block of the nappe overlying autochthonous material. Thrust system en.jpg
Schematic overview of an eroded thrust system. The shaded material is the nappe. The erosional hole is called a window or fenster. The klippe is the isolated block of the nappe overlying autochthonous material.

In geology, a nappe or thrust sheet is a large sheetlike body of rock that has been moved more than 2 km (1.2 mi) [1] or 5 km (3.1 mi) [2] [3] above a thrust fault from its original position. Nappes form in compressional tectonic settings like continental collision zones or on the overriding plate in active subduction zones. Nappes form when a mass of rock is forced (or "thrust") over another rock mass, typically on a low angle fault plane. The resulting structure may include large-scale recumbent folds, shearing along the fault plane, [4] imbricate thrust stacks, fensters and klippe.


The term stems from the French word for tablecloth in allusion to a rumpled tablecloth being pushed across a table. [4]


Nappes or nappe belts are a major feature of the European Alps, Dinarides, Carpathians and Balkans. [5] [6] Since the 19th century many geologists have uncovered areas with large-scale overthrusts. Some of these were substantiated with paleontological evidence. The concept was developed by Marcel Alexandre Bertrand, who unraveled the complex tectonic history of the Alps and identified the feature as nappe de charriage. He reinterpreted earlier studies by Arnold Escher von der Linth and Albert Heim in the Glarus Alps. [7] His work in Switzerland influenced Escher and Maurice Lugeon. Several years later, nappe structure was investigated in northwestern Scotland by Charles Lapworth. Lugeon later transferred the ideas of nappes to the Carpathians.


Klippe of Hronicum nappe, Vapec, Strazovske vrchy Mts., Slovakia Vapec od Horni Poruby.jpg
Klippe of Hronicum nappe, Vápeč, Strážovské vrchy Mts., Slovakia

Nappe can be qualified in a number of ways to indicate various features of a formation. The frontal part in the direction of movement, is called the leading edge of a nappe; numerous folds and secondary thrusts and duplexes are common features here and are sometimes called digitations. The surface of a thrust fault which caused movement of a nappe is called a decollement , detachment plane or sole of thrust. The root area is an area where the nappe is completely separated from its substratum. It is often compressed and reduced, even underthrust below the surrounding tectonic units, resulting in a specific structure called a suture . A nappe whose root area is unknown, is called a rootless nappe.

Areas with a nappe structure often contain two types of geological features:


According to petrographical composition, two basic types of nappes are known:

Mechanisms of emplacement

Converging tectonic plates and the orogenic wedge Orogenic wedge.jpg
Converging tectonic plates and the orogenic wedge

Nappes are generally considered as compressional structures, however some exceptions could be found especially among the gravitational slides along low angle faults. [8] [9] Gravitational forces could even be important in certain cases during emplacement of compressional thrusts. The movement of huge masses of rock may be influenced by several forces, forces that may act together or sequentially. These forces frequently result in high temperature and pressure metamorphism and strong deformation of nappe rocks. [10]

At shallower depths, low pressures and temperatures can't cause the plastic and viscous behavior of solid rock necessary to move along low angle faults. It is considered that such characteristics may be achieved at significantly less extreme conditions in the clayey rocks or evaporites, which can then act as tectonic lubricants. The process, which significantly reduces the frictional resistance, is the fluid overpressure, which acts against the normal pressure, thereby reducing high lithostatic pressures and allowing fracturation, cataclasis and formation of tectonic breccia or fault gouge that could act as a decollement plane. Evaporites are also often related the decollement and thrust planes. Evaporites are strongly prone to shear deformation and therefore preferred planes of detachment. [11]

Behavior of thrust sheets is currently explained on the model of the orogenic wedge, which is dependent on the internal wedge taper θ. [12] Gravitational sliding is movement generated by the movement down an inclined plane under the action of gravity. Gravitational spreading, possibly accompanied by an initial phase of diapirism, is generated by large heat flow that causes detachment in a hinterland. [13] Other mechanisms, such as push from behind, action of tangential compressive forces, and shortening of the basement, are essentially variations of the previous mechanisms.

Related Research Articles

Thrust fault A type of reverse fault that has a dip of 45 degrees or less

A thrust fault is a break in the Earth's crust, across which older rocks are pushed above younger rocks.

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

Sedimentary basins are regions of the Earth where long-term subsidence creates accommodation space for accumulation of sediments. As the sediments are buried, they are subject to increasing pressure and begin the processes of compaction and lithification that transform them into sedimentary rock.

Moine Thrust Belt

The Moine Thrust Belt or Moine Thrust Zone is a linear tectonic feature in the Scottish Highlands which runs from Loch Eriboll on the north coast 190 kilometres (120 mi) south-west to the Sleat peninsula on the Isle of Skye. The thrust belt consists of a series of thrust faults that branch off the Moine Thrust itself. Topographically, the belt marks a change from rugged, terraced mountains with steep sides sculptured from weathered igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks in the west to an extensive landscape of rolling hills over a metamorphic rock base to the east. Mountains within the belt display complexly folded and faulted layers and the width of the main part of the zone varies up to 10 kilometres (6.2 mi), although it is significantly wider on Skye.

The Lewis Overthrust is a geologic thrust fault structure of the Rocky Mountains found within the bordering national parks of Glacier in Montana, United States and Waterton Lakes in Alberta, Canada. The structure was created due to the collision of tectonic plates about 170 million years ago that drove a several mile thick wedge of rock 50 mi (80 km) eastwards, causing it to overlie softer Cretaceous age rock that is 400 to 500 million years younger.

Austroalpine nappes

The Austroalpine nappes are a geological nappe stack in the European Alps. The Alps contain three such stacks, of which the Austroalpine nappes are structurally on top of the other two. The name Austroalpine means Southern Alpine, because these nappes crop out mainly in the Eastern Alps.

Southern Alps (Europe)

The Southern Alps are a geological subdivision of Alps that are found south of the Periadriatic Seam, a major geological faultzone across the Alps. The southern Alps contain almost the same area as the Southern Limestone Alps. The rocks of the southern Alps gradually go over in the Dinarides or Dinaric Alps to the south-east. In the south-west they disappear below recent sediments of the Po basin that are lying discordant on top of them.

Window (geology)

A tectonic window, or fenster, is a geologic structure formed by erosion or normal faulting on a thrust system. In such a system the rock mass that has been transported by movement along the thrust is called a nappe. When erosion or normal faulting produces a hole in the nappe where the underlying autochthonous rocks crop out this is called a window. Klippen are also a feature near windows.


Décollement is a gliding plane between two rock masses, also known as a basal detachment fault. Décollements are a deformational structure, resulting in independent styles of deformation in the rocks above and below the fault. They are associated with both compressional settings and extensional settings.

Thrust tectonics Study of the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, the shortening and thickening of the crust

Thrust tectonics or contractional tectonics is concerned with the structures formed by, and the tectonic processes associated with, the shortening and thickening of the crust or lithosphere. It is one of the three main types of tectonic regime, the others being extensional tectonics and strike-slip tectonics. These match the three types of plate boundary, convergent (thrust), divergent (extensional) and transform (strike-slip). There are two main types of thrust tectonics, thin-skinned and thick-skinned, depending on whether or not basement rocks are involved in the deformation. The principle geological environments where thrust tectonics is observed are zones of continental collision, restraining bends on strike-slip faults and as part of detached fault systems on some passive margins.

Naukluft Mountains

The Naukluft Mountains are a mountain range in central Namibia. The southern part of the mountain range forms the easternmost part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The northern mountains are occupied by privately held farms. They are known for their wildlife, including mountain zebras and leopards. The mountains have many small streams and waterfalls.

Metamorphic core complex

Metamorphic core complexes are exposures of deep crust exhumed in association with largely amagmatic extension. They form, and are exhumed, through relatively fast transport of middle and lower continental crust to the Earth's surface. During this process, high-grade metamorphic rocks are exposed below low-angle detachment faults that show ductile deformation on the lower side (footwall) with amphibolite- to greenschist-facies syndeformational metamorphism, and ductile-brittle to brittle deformation on the upper-side (hanging-wall) with tilted geometries.

Fatra-Tatra Area

The Fatra-Tatra Area or the Tatra-Fatra Belt of core mountains is a part of the Inner Western Carpathians, a subprovince of the Western Carpathians. Most of the area lies in Slovakia with small parts reaching into Austria and Poland. The highest summit of the whole Carpathians, the Gerlachovský štít at 2,655 m (8,711 ft), lies in the High Tatras range which belongs to this area.

Pieniny Klippen Belt Zone in the Western Carpathians, with a very complex geological structure

The Pieniny Klippen Belt is in geology a tectonically and orographically remarkable zone in the Western Carpathians, with a very complex geological structure. It is a narrow and extremely long north banded zone of extreme shortening and sub-vertical strike-slip fault zone, with complex geological history, where only fragments of individual strata and facies are preserved. The Pieniny Klippen Belt is considered one of the main tectonic sutures of the Carpathians and forms the boundary between the Outer and Central Western Carpathians.

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.

Thin-skinned deformation

Thin-skinned deformation is a style of deformation in plate tectonics at a convergent boundary which occurs with shallow thrust faults that only involves cover rocks, and not deeper basement rocks.

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.

Thick-skinned deformation is a geological term which refers to crustal shortening that involves basement rocks and deep-seated faults as opposed to only the upper units of cover rocks above the basement which is known as thin-skinned deformation. While thin-skinned deformation is common in many different localities, thick-skinned deformation requires much more strain to occur and is a rarer type of deformation.

Geology of Sicily

The geology of Sicily records the collision of the Eurasian and the African plates during westward-dipping subduction of the African slab since late Oligocene. Major tectonic units are the Hyblean foreland, the Gela foredeep, the Apenninic-Maghrebian orogen, and the Calabrian Arc. The orogen represents a fold-thrust belt that folds Mesozoic carbonates, while a major volcanic unit is found in an eastern portion of the island. The collision of Africa and Eurasia is a retreating subduction system, such that the descending Africa is falling away from Eurasia, and Eurasia extends and fills the space as the African plate falls into the mantle, resulting in volcanic activity in Sicily and the formation of Tyrrhenian slab to the north.


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