GEOLOGICA CARPATHICA, 48, 4, BRATISLAVA, AUGUST 1997
TSUNAMITES IN A STORM-DOMINATED ANISIAN CARBONATE
RAMP (VYSOKÁ FORMATION, MALÉ KARPATY MTS.,
Geological Institute, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Dúbravská cesta 9, 842 26 Bratislava, Slovak Republic
(Manuscript received February 25, 1997; accepted in revised form June 24, 1997)
The Vysoká Formation limestone sequence (Fatric Zone, Central Western Carpathians) reflects two strik-
ing contradictions in the character of the Anisian sedimentary record. Tempestite intercalations representing the first
one are connected with the occurrence of violent storm events which interrupted the overwhelmingly stable sedimen-
tary conditions of a restricted shallow carbonate ramp environment. The second contradiction (tsunamite layers)
proves the occurrence of sudden seismic events which disturbed a long period of rather slow (20–30 mm/Ka) gradual
subsidence. These events are interpreted as the effects of starting the oblique rifting of the Paleo-European shelf.
Alpine-Carpathian shelf, Anisian, sedimentology, carbonate ramp, tempestites, tsunamites.
wards, distal tempestites can pass into turbidites (Hayes 1967;
Swift et al. 1987).
Some of the rudstone layers are supposed to be of seismic
origin. Seismite interpretation can be supported by the pres-
ence of abrupt lithological change following sudden subsid-
ence of the bottom (Philips et al. 1994; Clague & Bobrowsky
1994), liquefaction features such as dikes filled by unconsoli-
dated basemental rocks, or their detailed micro-folding (Mun-
son et al. 1995; Nelson et al. 1996). Some seismites are differ-
entiated into plastically deformed base, fragment-supported
middle part and matrix-supported top (Marco & Agnon 1995)
of the layer. Shallow-water or coastal seismites can be over-
lain by tsunami-induced sand sheets (Hemphill-Halley 1995;
Nelson et al. 1996). Tsunamites are special type of tempes-
tites. They always contain clastic material and open marine or-
ganism remnants transported landwards (Clague & Bo-
browsky 1994; Hemphil-Hailey 1995).
Vysoká Limestone Formation forms the lowermost part of
the Vysoká Nappe belonging to the Krížna Unit of the Central
Carpathian superficial nappe system. It is well developed in
the middle part of the Malé Karpaty Mts. (Biele Pohorie Hills;
cf. Michalík et al. 1992), where it forms several of the most
prominents peaks (Mt Modranská skala, Mt Bartalová, Mt
Vysoká, Mt Biela skala, Mt Geldek; Fig.1). During the Middle
Triassic, the sedimentary area was situated in the flat part of a
large steepened carbonate ramp on the margin of Paleo-Euro-
pean shelf (Michalík 1993a, 1994; Rüffer & Zühlke 1995) .
The Vysoká Limestone Formation was named by Vetters
(1904) and Beck & Vetters (1904). Although it was later
McKee (1959) recognized the character of storm sediments in
Recent reef environments. Brenner & Davies (1973) and Ager
(1974) reported the presence of Jurassic storm-generated sedi-
ments in Wyoming, Montana and Morocco. Dźuliński & Ku-
bicz (1975) interpreted layers of coarse rudstone intercalated
in fine grained Middle Triassic limestones of Silesia as storm
sediments. Similar cases were presented by Aigner (1977,
1979, 1982) and Aigner et al. (1978) from the Middle Triassic
German Muschelkalk, and by Blendinger (1983) from the Al-
pine Dont Fm of the same age. Such a layer called “tempes-
tite” with a usually erosive base is formed by graded rudstone
which contains clasts derived from the underlying bed (Chudz-
ikiewicz 1975) together with reworked fragments of marine
organisms. Sometimes, texture arrangement similar to the
Bouma-sequence could be observed. Parallel, hummocky
crossed and ripple laminated intervals, indicating a high-ener-
gy environmental regime (Aigner 1982) occur occasionally.
Tempestite records differ in different sedimentary environ-
ments. While in a mild and humid climate it mostly consists of
quartz sand derived from river input (Wright & Walker 1981;
Katsura et al. 1984; Ramli 1986; Schieber 1987; Goodbred &
Hine 1995, etc), in a hot dry climate it is composed either of
marine lime biodetritus on littoral flats (Perkins & Enos 1968;
Lee 1988; Lee & Kim 1992; Sageman 1996), or of lime mud
in oolite bars (Shinn et al. 1993; Major et al. 1996). The extent
of shoreline erosion depends on shore morphology: being con-
siderable on sandy coasts, but very slight in coastal marshes
(Clague & Bobrowsky 1994). In spite of frequent destruction
of tempestite record by subsequent erosion or bioturbation on
low coasts with microtidal, low-wave energy environments,
the sediment deposition can be affected by storm-driven trans-
port here (Goodbred & Hine 1995). Landward transport of ma-
terial dominates during the vanishing stage of the storm (Ru-
dowski 1986). Downwelling streams are responsible for
basinward transport in the deeper neritic zone. More basin-
identified with the Gutenstein Limestone (Andrusov 1959;
Mahe 1961), its specific features were well known to Car-
pathian geologists (Mišík 1983, etc). More precise strati-
graphical, lithological and sedimentological characterization
has been given by Michalík et al. (1992) and by Zágoršek
(1993), who based their descriptions on several dozen sec-
tions investigated in detail. Only the basal member, distin-
guished at that time, should be regarded as the Vysoká For-
mation proper. The name “Geldek Member” should be
retained for its uppermost part lying both above the middle
part, called here the “Oberheg Member”, and the basal, poor-
ly exposed and tectonically reduced part which could be
named here as the “Uhliská Member” (Fig. 2). The authors
mentioned have found fauna of crinoids, bryozoans, brachio-
pods, conodonts, foraminifers, ophiuroids, molluscs and cal-
careous sponges in several fossiliferous levels here. These
enabled them to identify the early Pelsonian and early Illyri-
an age of the principal parts (Oberheg and Geldek Members,
respectively) of the formation.
A dolomite complex found at a higher level should be re-
garded as the independent Ramsau Dolomite Formation.
Similarly, shelly limestones containing Carnian molluscs,
provisionally named by Michalík et al. (1992) as the “Parná
Member”, evidently belong to another, independent forma-
tion comparable to the Opponitz Limestone.
As indicated in the Fig. 2, the Oberheg Member represents
an independent depositional sequence limited from below by
an erosional boundary, which can be parallelized with this
designated as the An-3 by Rüffer & Zühlke (1995). LST of
this sequence is incompletely preserved, TST is represented
by channels filled by clastic limestone (Fig. 3). HST is fully
recorded by thick laminated to vermicular limestones with
tempestite intercalations. The topmost part of this sequence
is cut by erosion during successive lowstand conditions.
The architecture of the Geldek Member (its lower bound-
ary being parallelized with the An-4 of the authors men-
tioned above) is more complex. Its base is defined by a
transgressive system boundary of the 1st order. The LST
seems to be mostly represented by dolomite, followed by
oolitic and biostromal limestones containing bryozoans,
brachiopods and crinoids. However, the higher part of the
sequence with several intercalations of tempestite beds,
channel fillings, oolitic limestones and sabkha-type carbon-
ates with pseudomorphs of evaporite crystals repeating in
irregular cycles can be related rather to the autocyclic pro-
cesses sensu Satterley (1996). The sedimentary rate was
rapid enough to fill all the depositional space and to keep
up very shallow-water sedimentary conditions. The rising
sea-level can be indicated only by retreat of the oolitic bar
towards the lagoonal flats (to the right in the figure). The
Localization sketches. Upper left corner (A): The position of the Malé Karpaty Mts. (hatched quadrangle) in Slovakia. Lower
right corner (B): Principal tectonic units of these mountains mentioned. Center (C): Important sections of the Vysoká Formation in the
middle part of the mountains.
TSUNAMITES IN A STORM–DOMINATED ANISIAN CARBONATE RAMP 223
Distribution of principal facies and elements of sequence stratigraphy in selected profiles of the Vysoká Formation in the Malé Karpaty Mts.
upper boundary with overlying Ramsau Dolomite is erosive,
accompanied by a sedimentary gap.
The most characteristic lithofacies of the Vysoká Formation
consists of thick bedded dark grey limestone micrite and mi-
crosparite (mudstone, wackestone) with changeable clay ad-
mixture in thick laminae reflecting fluctuating environmental
conditions. Its sedimentary environment was defined as re-
stricted offshore shallow flats. Lithification of the sediment
started in purer calcitic laminae which were probably deposit-
ed in warmer and dryer periods. Depending on the contrast be-
tween such lamina and the marly interval underlying it, bulks
of semi-lithified rock “floated” on clayey matrix could have
been frequently affected by disturbances due to reversed den-
sity gradient (Kasiński et al. 1978), sliding (Kotański 1955),
bioturbation, or by subsequent erosion. The “banded” or, in
extreme cases “vermicular”, appearence of such limestone de-
posits (MF-5, MF-6 in Michalík et al. 1992) evidently resulted
from their complex diagenesis.
Michalík et al. (1992) found layers of structureless (or
slightly graded) grainstones to rudstones with large extra-
clasts in the Vysoká Fm. Sparites and microsparites contain
coarse shell debris of bivalves, gastropods, ostracods, brachi-
opods, crinoids and foraminifers. Pellets, ooids and small in-
traclasts occur sporadically. Significant recrystallization and
selective dolomitization is obvious. The base of each tempes-
tite bed is sharp, sometimes stressed by stylolitization. Paral-
lel bedded, hummocky crossed and ripple laminated intervals
indicate the current regime. The character of the tempestite
layers indicates a rapid, single deposition without subsequent
reworking. A great part of the clastic intercalations belongs
to distant tempestites.
The vermicular limestone directly underlying of several tem-
pestite layers is characteristically sigmoidally deformed (Fig.
4.1). Usually, the oblique, middle arm of sigmoids formed by
small imbricated limestone bulbs (“vermicles”) is the most
prominent. Only in several horizons, their ends are not bent
backwards so that the resulting structure is similar to oblique
bedding. Such transitions allow us to suppose several develop-
mental stages of this “rope-ladder” texture (Figs. 4.1–3, 4.6).
In the first stage, a thin (several decimeters) incompletely
lithified sediment layer has been liquefied by seismic shock.
Lime bulbs have been shaped into elongated ellipsoids and
completely isolated one from another by a more-or-less regu-
larly distributed soft clayey matrix.
Subsequently, the stroke of an on-shore tsunami wave re-
moved the liquefied sediment layer from the slightly elevated
(or more exposed) parts of the bottom and caused imbrication
oflime bulbs in more protected, shallow depressions (Fig. 5 A).
In third stage, drag caused by the returning off-shore wave
deformed the ends of bulbs into sigmoids (Fig. 5 B). This de-
formation depended on the intensity of drag forces and on the
mobility of the sediment, as well. Elastic behaviour of de-
formed soft sediments was caused by high pore water pres-
sure during the shock event as indicated by the experiments
of Einsele et al. (1974).
Finally, the sigmoidal lenses (several tens of metres wide
and 3 to 30 cm thick) were covered by a tempestite-like layer
consisting of clastic particles washed out from sediment
eroded by the retreating off-shore wave (Figs. 4.4–5).
A similar texture from isochronous deposits (Misina Fm)
was described by Nagy (1968) from the south-Hungarian
Mecsek Mts. as “zürückgebogene Kreuzschichtung” (Figs.
4.7–8). Identical features occur in the upper Scythian lime-
stones (Szinpetri Fm) of the Hungarian Aggtelek Karst, or in
the Pelsonian limestones of the Lakatnik section (Iskar Val-
ley) in Bulgaria. Schwarz (1975) described “sigmoidal slab
joints” from the German Middle Triassic Wellenkalk: he re-
garded them as a result of vertical compression as a primary
cause and a secondary lateral movement for space compensa-
tion. Alternatively, he connected this internal displacement
with accelerated compaction assuming shock waves from
earthquakes in the still unconsolidated beds. Kimura et al.
(1989) interpreted the origin of sigmoidal deformation
(“veins”) from Recent soft sediments of the Mariana Trough
as shears parallel to the stratification accompanied by reduc-
tion in the amount of pore water. A sudden increase in the
pore water pressure by lateral strain caused the origin of cou-
lisse-arranged slip surfaces (domino effect). This pressure
event was ascribed to the effect of a tsunami wave (Coleman
1968; Catenacci 1976). Perceptible shock from on-surge
wave movement effects unconsolidated (and seismically liq-
uefacted) surface layers of sediment. Galli (1990) described
similarly imbricated arrangement of bivalve shells underly-
ing the actual tsunamite bed. On the other hand, Kastens &
Cita (1981) did not observe any special texture in their lime
“homogenite” of tsunamite origin. Evidently, the origin of
the “rope-ladder” texture was connected with a very special
carbonate ramp morphology, sediment composition and di-
agenesis, as well.
The Anisian morphology of Tethyan carbonate ramps was
unique: the indicators of extremely shallow sedimentation
were recorded in a belt several hundred kilometers wide and
rimming all the Mediterranean shelf. Michalík (1993a–b,
1994) calculated the sedimentary rate in the northern, near-
1–6: Tsunamite layers in the Geldek Mb, Oberheg section:
1) “rope-ladder texture” in bed No. 42 and its contact (arrow)
with the “tempestite”, 2) couple of tsunamites in the bed No. 40,
3) weathered cross-section of the tsunamite in the bed No. 52,
4) erosional groove below the base of “tempestite” part (arrow) of
the bed No 18), 5) bed No. 18 (all “tempestite” represented by
breccia, 6) polished section of the bed No. 16. 7–8: Tsunamites
from the Misina Formation, Mecsek Mts., Hungary (8 is a detail
from the right side of the Fig. 4.7).
Channel filling facies in the layer 42, Oberheg section on
Horný Vrch Hill, Malé Karpaty Mts. 1) more general view (upside
down position), 2) detail of large limestone clast in the right part
of the top figure, 3) clastic cycle with erosive base and limestone
clasts (left part of the top figure).
TSUNAMITES IN A STORM–DOMINATED ANISIAN CARBONATE RAMP 225
TSUNAMITES IN A STORM–DOMINATED ANISIAN CARBONATE RAMP 227
Interpretative sketch, illustrating the origin of tsunamite bed. Above (A): imbrication of semi-consolidated sediment by the stroke
of an on-shore tsunami wave, below (B): origin of “rope-ladder texture” by deformation evoked by the off-shore wave (see the text).
shore zones of the central Western Carpathians as 20–39 mm/
Ka during Anisian (in comparision with the Scythian 5–
20 mm/Ka). In these extensive marginal seas (800 thousand
square kilometers in area according to the former author), tidal
currents were hampered by the high friction of a thin water
column above an extremely shallow bottom. On the other
hand, Godbred & Hine (1985) argued that the storm-driven
transport was especially important precisely in these microtid-
al, low-wave energy environments with low coast morpholo-
gies. Sageman (1996) also stressed the extremely low gradient
of the basin floor, in which skeletal limestones of tempestite
origin have developed. The mineralogy of the sediments indi-
cates a hot climate with low precipitation. Liu & Fearn (1993)
supposed the rise of hurricane activity (ca. 40–50 %) precisely
during greenhouse warming of their model.
Wide nearshore flats have been affected both by large
storm and tsunami waves. The mobility of the substratum
causing occasional earthquakes was interpreted by Michalík
(1994) as the result of the beginning of oblique rifting in the
Penninic Zone. This process formed Ladinian tensional Rei-
fling-type basins in the Alpine-Carpathian shelf (Michalík
1993a,b) and resulted in formation of the Jurassic/Cretaceous
Penninic branch of the Mediterranean Tethys.
Finally, the tsunami events were well recorded by the lime
ooze of the Gutenstein type only. The rate of diagenesis ham-
pered by the clay and organic matter content allowed the semi-
consolidated mud layer both to be liquefied by seismic shock
and to preserve enough plastic “vermicular” lump bodies
which recorded imbricated and sigmoidal textures. From this
point of view, it is rather striking that the huge Cambrian/Or-
dovician carbonate ramp sequence near Dingjiatan and Qing-
baikou (Western Beijing Hills) demonstrated in August 10-
11th, 1996 during the 30th IGC, China (although developed in
a “Gutenstein-like” facies with numerous tempestite intercala-
tions) does not contain any “rope-ladder” beds.
The Anisian Vysoká Formation sequence is a good exam-
ple of Middle Triassic sedimentation on an extensive carbon-
ate ramp system along the northern Tethyan sea-shore.
Thick-laminated to vermicular limestones deposited on a re-
stricted offshore flats area contain grainstone and packstone
intercalations of tempestite origin. These two contrasting
lithologies indicate special climatic conditions on a wide
shallow carbonate shelf. The monotonous thick sequence of
thick-laminated and “vermicular” limestones seems to prove
slight, relatively constant subsidence without any disturbing
tectonic events. However, this assumption contrasts with the
occurrence of tsunamite layers: grainstone/packstone layers
similar to tempestites, which are accompanied by sigmoidal
deformation (“rope-ladder structure”) of underlying beds.
These typical structures repeated occur in “Gutenstein-like”
Mediterranean carbonates of Pelsonian age, recording the
seismic activity of that age.
Their origin was connected with the start of oblique rifting
in Paleo-European shelf which during the Jurassic/Cretaceous
time led to the formation of the Penninic branch of the Tethys.
: Author express his sincere thanks to
Prof. Milan Mišík (Bratislava) and to Dr. M. Kázmér
(Budapest) for their constructive critical comments. The par-
ticipants of the 4th Shallow Tethys Symposium (Albrechts-
berg, 1994) and these of the Symposium No. 15/3 in the 30th
International Geological Congress (Beijing, 1996) are ac-
knowledged for their stimulating discussions. The paper con-
tributes to the Grant Project VEGA 4076 of the Slovak
Academy of Sciences and to the activity of Subcommission
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