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Sedimentary rock record and microfacies indicators

of the latest Triassic to mid-Cretaceous tensional development

of the Zliechov Basin (Central Western Carpathians)


Geological Institute, Slovak Academy of Science, Dúbravská 9, P.O. Box 106, 840 05 Bratislava, Slovak Republic;

(Manuscript received November 14, 2006; accepted in revised form March 15, 2007)

Abstract: The Zliechov Basin was situated inside the Austroalpine—West Carpathian shelf fragment detached from the
Paleoeuropean margin at the end of the Triassic. Information about changes of clastic support, bathymetry, benthic
organism colonization etc. were recorded during microfacies correlation of sequences analysed in detail. Comparison of
individual developmental stage models constructed by plotting of these data into paleogeographic schemes indicates
paleogeographic and geodynamic changes in the Zliechov Basin evolution in the regime of continuous Jurassic to middle
Cretaceous extension. This development is illustrated on the basis of two developmental stages. The uppermost Triassic
stage preceded rifting in the Fatric area, when the depocentre of sedimentation was located in the southern part of the
arising basin. Rifting culminated during the Early/Middle Jurassic and continued during the Late Jurassic and Early
Cretaceous, when a large basin originated with complex bottom morphology, affected by normal faults.

Key words: Jurassic, Cretaceous, Western Carpathians, Fatric Superunit, paleogeography, sequence stratigraphy.


Ancient climatic, eustatic, hydrodynamic, tectonic and
geographical changes can be traced by sequence analysis
of basinal infilling. Although the petrographical composi-
tion of hemipelagic sediments is less variable if compared
with the neritic facies, their microfacies pattern also re-
flects tiny changes related both to global eustatic fluctua-
tions and to local changes in basin paleogeography.

In order to characterize principal changes of the basinal

evolution in the Fatric Superunit of the Central Western
Carpathians two stages of this area development have
been selected which served as the base of two models. The
first one was represented by the shallow partially restricted
Fatra Formation basin, in latest Triassic, when the Tethyan
shelf sea transgressed onto emerged zones. On the other
hand, the Lower Cretaceous facies in the second model
have been deposited in an open marine hemipelagic
Zliechov Basin prior to the maximum crustal extension.

Geological setting

The Western Carpathians form a segment of the Euro-

pean Alpine orogenic belt, thrusted farthest to the north.
Until the Late Triassic, the central Carpathian (plus
Austroalpine) terrains were attached to the European
shelf (Michalík 1994). During the Early Jurassic, this
microcontinent was broken off by the spreading Penninic
rift and started to move southeastwards. This movement
was accompanied by tensional stress creating small pull-
apart basins in the West Carpathian—East Alpine crustal
block (Michalík 1993). From the Early Jurassic to middle

Cretaceous, the Zliechov Basin became a position of the
central basin of the Fatric Superunit and attained a width
of several hundred kilometers. During the Turonian com-
pression, the Fatric Mesozoic sediments were deformed,
detached from the substrate (the Krížna Nappe, Plašienka
1999) and thrust a distance of more than 80 km onto the
more external Tatric Superunit.

Fatra Formation evolutionary stage in the Fatric Super-

During the Rhaetian, an extensive temporary emerged

lowland area in the northern part of the Alpine-Carpathian
microcontinent was gradually inundated by a shallow sea.
A furrow-like embayment of this sea formed in the central
part of the Zliechov Basin arising in the Fatric Superunit.
This basin was filled with a sequence of dark coloured car-
bonates and shales called the Fatra Formation by Michalík
(1973, 1974, 1977), who documented 276 sections and
recognized ten facies areas in the Fatra Formation basin.
Michalík et al. (1977, 1979) and Gaździcki et al. (1979)
divided five informal members of the Fatra Formation
(basal beds, lower biostromatic member, barren interval,
upper biostromatic member and transitional beds).

In spite of the extensive area covered by the Fatra Forma-

tion, its exposures are not always suitable for a detailed
bed-by-bed sampling. A better state of outcropping should
be found in the montane areas. However, many sections are
tectonically reduced. Seven sections have been selected
(Fig. 1A) in the western mountains of Slovakia (the
Strážovské vrchy Highlands – the Híreška section; the
Malá Fatra Mts – the Zázrivá and the Lesnianska sections;
the Ve ká Fatra Mts (Tomášových 2000) – the Belianska,

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the Dedošova and the Bystrô sections; one
section is situated on the foot of the Chočské
vrchy Mts – the Bobrovček section). Four
other sections are located in the Tatra Mts
area (Michalík 2003): the Furkaska, the
Lejowa, the Vidla and the Kardolina sections.
Finally, the last, twelfth section lies in the
Humenské Vrchy Mts (the Okor section).

Uppermost Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous
formations in the Zliechov Basin

As in the last model, twelve sections have

been selected (Fig. 1B). The first one (the
Butkov section) belongs to the Manín Unit,
which has a controversial position according
to several authors. However, the character of
its sedimentary sequence is mostly identical
to the peripheral parts of the Fatric Superunit
(Plašienka 1999). The Hlboča section is lo-
calized in the Vysoká Unit of the Malé
Karpaty Mts, in one of the frontal nappes of
the Krížna Nappe complex. Three other sec-
tions (the Mráznica, the Zliechov and the
Strážovce sections) lay in different
digitations of the Krížna Nappe proper, in the
Strážovské Vrchy Highlands. The Osnica
section is situated in a similar position in
the Malá Fatra Mts, the Motyčky section in
the southern part of the Ve ká Fatra Mts
(Boorová et al. 1993). Four sections (the
Oravice, the Lejowa, the Kryta and the Muráň
sections) are located on the northern slopes of
the Tatra Mts. Finally, the Chlm section is ex-
posed in the Humenné Mts.

Analytical methods

Pelagic sediments in both models are repre-

sented primarily by autochthonous micrite,
mixed with fine allochems. These allochemic
particles were formed either by fine eolian and
meteoritic dust, the “rain” of planktonic skel-
etons, or by very distal turbidite material and
by neritic clasts (Fig. 2). Carbonate content
can be depressed by synsedimentary solution
or by condensation. The sedimentary rate of
non-condensed sequence is low (1—18 mm/
kyr). A sudden increase of allochems can be
interpreted as the effect of contourite (the
former case) or turbidite (the latter category)
currents (which can usually be detected
already by basic macrofacies study). On the
other hand, gradually changing allochem
content can serve as a key in the sequence
stratigraphic analysis, being currently con-
nected with a changing sea level (Michalík
et al. 1999).

Fig. 1.  A – Location of Rhaetian Fatra Formation sections (triangles) studied in
the frame of Slovakia (Krížna Nappe, Central Western Carpathians). B – Loca-
tion of the sections of Lower Cretaceous sequence (triangles) studied in the
Krížna Nappe (Central Western Carpathians) in the frame of Slovakia.

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Fig. 2. Distribution of allochems in the Lower Cretaceous pelagic limestone se-
quence model from the Zliechov Basin. Adopted from Michalík et al. (1999).
Quantitative datum (in percents, vertical axis) is approximative only.

The most complete sections which were selected both in

the shallow Fatra Formation basin and in the much deeper
Lower Cretaceous Zliechov Basin for more detailed in-
spection, were sampled by the bed-by-bed method for thin
sections. In more generally evaluated sections, regular one
meter thick intervals have been sampled. The quantitative
percentual representation of the matrix, allochems and ce-
ment has been estimated under the microscope in thin sec-
tions by the method proposed by Schäfer (1969) and by
Soudant (1972). The data from individual beds were plot-
ted in line diagrams enabling comparison of isochronous
changes in the sections studied. Finally, values from
equivalent levels were compared in a palinspastic sketch
of the basin.

Higher contents of both sparitic cement

and of frequent clastic particles are typical of
the lowstand parts of the sequences in both
models (Fig. 3). The clastic grains are repre-
sented by quartz grains, lithoclasts and by
more or less rounded skeletal fragments of
neritic benthic organisms, which usually do
not occur in the transgressive or in the
highstand tracts (Michalík & Reháková
1997). Comparison of lowstand tracts of
equivalent order shows that the total
lowstand portion thickness is related to cli-
matic oscillations (humidity provided the
medium accelerating transport of the clastic
material), but the ratio of quartz and
lithoclasts against bioclasts depended on tec-
tonic activity in the source area, which was
responsible for the rejuvenation of relief and
exposure of deeper parts of crustal blocks
(Fig. 3). On the contrary, coasts in stable re-
lief are rimmed by neritic biostromes with
bioclastic slope, which support transport of
skeletal particles into basin.

In the neritic model, the abundance of

more complete skeletons of benthic animals
(embedded in micritic matrix) and their di-
versity increases with the rising sea level.
During lowstand, sea bottom was partially
emerged and exposed to dolomitization, ero-
sion and karstification. During transgression,
oolite bars moved across biostromes and la-
goons landwards, while aggrading biostromes
were typical of the highstand conditions. On
the other hand, the effects of global eustasy
were combined with an autocyclic shallowing
upwards pattern, notable in the lower part of
the Fatra Formation.

In the pelagic model, the representation of

microplankton tests is more important in
transgressive and highstand tracts (Fig. 2).
Generally, the distribution of organic rem-
nants in a sequence can underline the se-
quence stratigraphic pattern: many species
disappear below the sequence boundary, new
species appear during the late lowstand—to

Fig. 3. Composition of lowstand sections. Interpretative scheme illustrating rela-
tionships between clastic grain- and littoral neritic clast contents versus eroded
part of sedimentary record resulting from interference of both climatic and tec-
tonic changes during sea-level lowstand time.

transgressive tract. Three groups of microplankton asso-
ciations keep different rules of distribution. The first, cal-
careous microplankton group comprises calpionellids,
saccocomas, cadosinids and stomiosphaerids, which could
even dominate in certain layers of transgressive tracts. The
share of nannoplankton, including nannocones, which
formed an important (if not even dominant) fraction of
Lower Cretaceous plankton could not be quantified ex-
actly. Nevertheless, it seems that the sites of the maximum
nannoplankton abundance were more or less coincident
with the abundance culmination areas of Berriasian and
Valanginian calpionellids (Reháková & Michalík 1994).
The second group of planktonic remnants evaluated is
represented by Globochaete alpina zoospores. They can

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dominate in oligotrophic deep neritic environments of transgressive
tract. The third plankton group is formed by radiolarians. They charac-
terized eutrophication (?upwelling) episodes in the late transgressive/
highstand plankton development. Important radiolarian maximum ab-
undance occurs at the maximum flooding surface, being accentuated
by a slower rate of sedimentation.

Legend to Figs. 4—7.

Fig. 4. Correlation of lithostratigraphy and cyclostratigraphy in the western
cross-section, based on four Fatra Formation sections from the Strážov- and
Ve ká Fatra Mts.


Carbonate platform development in the
Fatra Basin

The Fatra Formation sequence is composed

of neritic carbonates produced mostly by se-
creting activity of benthic biostromal growths.
The Fatra Formation sequence consists of
several (10—14) keep-up cycles showing a
shallowing upwards trend. The cycles were
probably of excentricity type, with 400 kyr
periodicity. If it is true (this assumption
should be supported by other, e.g. magneto-
stratigraphical methods), the base of the Fatra
Formation could be more-or-less isochronous
with the base of the Rhaetian Stage.

Anyway, the base of the formation is

diachronous, reflecting the uneven surface of
the underlying Carpathian Keuper during the
Rhaetian transgression (Gaździcki & Iwanow
1976). No expressive erosional marks,
grooves, or incised valleys have been ob-
served. Frequently, the basal beds are formed
by a black shale horizon, followed by shelly
limestones with euryhaline “Swabian” fauna
(bivalves, gastropods). Sometimes, the 1


cycle is missing and redeposited biodetrital
limestone layer forms the base of the 2


cycle sequence.

The beginning of biostromal growths is

typical of the third cycle. They covered shal-
low bottoms in the western part of the basin
(Fig. 4), containing several meters thick accu-
mulations and small patch reefs. The
biostrome community evolution in sedimen-
tary cycles in this region was described by
Michalík (1982). This trend was interrupted
by general shallowing (barren interval, sixth
to seventh cycle), which separated younger
cycles with development called the “upper
biostrome member” (eighth-ninth cycle).

The uppermost cycle in the Fatra Mts area

(Fig. 4) is represented mostly by oolite facies.
On the other hand, four additional cycles
(transitional beds) are present in the Tatra
Mts area. They were laid down in the most
rapidly subsiding segment of the basin (thick-
ness of the formation attains 60—90 m here, in
comparison with 30 to 50 m in its easternmore
parts, Fig. 5). This shallow was affected by a
temporary river system, which created here
flat deltaic lobes rich in terrigeneous clastic
material (Michalík et al. 2007).

The base of the Hettangian Kopieniec

Formation is rather sharp. The limestone
sequence of the Fatra Formation is abruptly
covered by a uniform non-carbonatic basal
“boundary claystone member”. (Tomášových

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Fig. 5. Correlation of lithostratigraphy and cyclostratigraphy in the eastern cross-section, based on four Fatra Formation sections from
the Tatra Mts.

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Fig. 6. Correlation of lithostratigraphy and cyclostratigraphy of the uppermost Jurassic—Lower Cretaceous sections in the western part of
the Zliechov Basin. Chronostratigraphic division related to neighbouring log, the other logs are correlated by broken lines.

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Fig. 7. Correlation of lithostratigraphy and cyclostratigraphy of the uppermost Ju-
rassic—Lower Cretaceous sections in the eastern part of the Zliechov Basin.

Middle Jurassic sediments were mostly rep-
resented by black shales, siliceous lime-
stones, silicites and radiolarites.

During the Kimmeridgian and Tithonian,

the Ammonitico Rosso limestone facies,
typical of ridge and slope areas, covered the
Tatric Swell and other elevation zones north
of the Zliechov Basin. The lowstand por-
tions of this sequence are easily distinguish-
able by raised admixture of biogenic debris
(echinoderms including saccocoma skel-
etons, bryozoans, benthic foraminifers,
bivalves, gastropods and aptychi frag-
ments). On the other hand, the axial part of
the basin was filled with dark argillites and
marly limestones of the Jasenina Formation
(Figs. 6—7). Six Kimmeridgian and four early
Tithonian lowstand intervals were distin-
guished here on the basis of rised content of
terrigeneous clasts (mostly lithic fragments
including quartz and heavy mineral grains).

During the early late Tithonian

Praetintinnopsella Zone, correlated with
the Ti-4 interval, terrigeneous input gener-
ally decreased and the lowstand system is
enriched by biogene fragments (Fig. 8).

During the early Berriasian, neritic flats

rimming uplifted dry-lands were overgrown
by biostromes. This was because benthic de-

& Michalík (2000) reported less pronounced T/J
boundary in the southernmost parts of the Fatra Formation
basin only.) On the other hand, there are some lateral
variations in the character of the second member, called
the Cardinia Sandstone. It is formed by pale quartzites in
the Tatra shallows area, but by reddish siltstones and
pelites more distally of it (they are comparable to the
Schattwald Beds of the Eastern Alps by Michalík 2003).

Carbonate Zliechov Basin development

Lower Jurassic subsidence of the Zliechov Basin was

rather slow and gradual. In the marginal Havran Unit, sup-
port of quartz sand continued (Baboš Quartzite, Lefeld et
al. 1985). Elsewhere, shales of the Kopieniec Formation
are passing into hemipelagic bioturbated (“spotted”) lime-
stones of the Janovky ( = Sołtysia) Formation (Gaździcki et
al. 1979). In a more marginal setting, crinoidal packstones
prevailed. They originated in shallow marine, or slope
conditions, passing into calciturbidites (Koša 1998). Jach
(2003, 2005) described hummocky cross-bedding and
wave ripples pointed on shallowing upwards trend on el-
evated blocks in a generally subsiding basin. Tectonic ac-
tivity of the bottom was enhanced during the Toarcian,
when submarine exhalative vents along active extensional
faults brought ferroan-manganese products deposited in
widely distributed crusts (Jach & Dudek 2005). The depo-
sition of condensed nodular limestones was followed by
rapid subsidence. Slumping and fragmentation of older
strata was observed in several sections (Michalík 1985).

bris formed the only admixture of Berriasian lowstand sedi-
ments. Interestingly, lowermost Berriasian (Be-1 to Be-4)
sequences are mostly missing in the sections from the west-
ern part of the Zliechov Basin (Fig. 9).

Clastic input into the basin was renewed during the

late Berriasian Be-7 lowstand interval (Fig. 10). The
Nozdrovice Breccia composed of uppermost Tithonian
and lower Berriasian limestone clasts originated by ero-
sion of substrate denivelated by faults (Borza et al. 1980;
Michalík & Reháková 1995, 1997). Increased abundance
of calcareous plankton including calpionellids is charac-
teristic of the transgressive system. The radiolarian abun-
dance peaked during highstand conditions (Fig. 12).

The Mráznica Formation consists of hemipelagic

bioturbated limestones, distributed in marginal parts of
the basin (Vašíček et al. 1994). It passes into more marly
(sometimes also more bituminous) limestones of the Hlboč
and Kościeliska Formations filling deeper parts of the ba-
sin. The Valanginian Va-4 lowstand interval initiated
deposition of siliciturbidite bodies reaching far into the
Zliechov Basin from its southern border (the Kryta Mem-
ber, Grabowski & Pszczółkowski 2004, ascribed to the
“Oravice Event” by Michalík & Reháková 1995). They
contain chromian spinel grains derived from ultrabasite
bodies uplifted by Neo-Cimmerian deformation. The same
event was indicated by bioclastic input in the northern
part of the Zliechov Basin (Fig. 11).

The Hauterivian turbidites (the Strážovce Member on

the west, the Muráň Formation in the eastern part of the
basin) were triggered by expressive Ha-5 lowstand. They

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contain mostly biogenic material derived from the de-
structed biogenic rim of the basin.


The paleogeographical evolution of transtensional

type basins could comprise several stages of gradual ex-
pansion (cf. Strauss et al. 2006). Similarly, the Zliechov
Basin evolved from a relatively narrow furrow-like struc-
ture during the latest Triassic.

Fourteen cycles of the Fatra Formation could answer to

400 kyr (excentricity) cycles as pointed out by Michalík

If supported by availability of transporting media, sea-

level lowstand conditions accelerated erosion of the ex-
posed sea bottom. Thus, the composition of lowstand
sediments could reflect the petrographical composition
and geodynamic activity of the area adjacent to the

Fig. 12. Distribution of radiolarians (numbers denote share in
percent) in the Zliechov Basin of the Fatric Superunit of Central
Western Carpathians during the Be-3 highstand

Fig. 10. Distribution of siliciclastic grains versus benthic calcitic
grains (numbers denote share in percent) in the Zliechov Basin of
the Fatric Superunit of Central Western Carpathians during the Be-7
lowstand (the Nozdrovice Event, Calpionellopsis Zone).

Fig. 11. Distribution of siliciclastic versus benthic calcitic grains
(numbers denote share in percent) in the Zliechov Basin of the Fat-
ric Superunit of Central Western Carpathians during the Va-4 low-
stand (the Oravice Event, termination of the Calpionellites Zone).

Fig. 8. Distribution of siliciclastic grains versus benthic calcitic
grains (numbers denote share in percent) in the Zliechov Basin of
the Fatric Superunit of the Central Western Carpathians during the
Ti-4 lowstand (early Crassicollaria Zone).

Fig. 9. Distribution of siliciclastic grains versus benthic calcitic grains
(numbers denote share in percent) in the Zliechov Basin of the Fatric
Superunit of Central Western Carpathians during the Be-1 lowstand.
The area in which the particular strata have been eroded is denoted.

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Fig. 13. Interpretative 3-D model of the Fatric sedimentary basin at the end of the Triassic.

Fig. 14. Interpretative 3-D model of the Fatric Zliechov sedimentary basin during the Early Cretaceous. Left strike-slip movement controlled
pull-apart type opening of the basin.

coast. As a result, the Kimmeridgian, early Tithonian and
late Valanginian southern siliciclastic input into the ba-
sin proves late Cimmerian tectonic movements in the in-
nermost part of the Alpine-Carpathian plate. An eastward
movement of the main source channel mouth can be as-
sumed from the comparison of time slice paleogeo-
graphical sketches (Figs. 8—12). This assumption is in

accordance with supposition of east-vergent left lateral
strike-slip movement of the southern block in the Eastern
Alps (Frank & Schlager 2006).

Microfacies data plotted on a palinspastic scheme in-

dicate that the Zliechov Basin has been formed by exten-
sion in the disintegrating Austroalpine—Central West
Carpathian crustal fragment detached from Paleoeuropean

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shelf by the arising Piemont—Pennine rift system
(Michalík 1994). It seems that the block bordering the
Zliechov Basin from the south was tectonically active. It
was formed by elevated basement rocks, which supported
siliciclastic material in fluxoturbidite beds. In contrast,
the material derived from the northern (Tatric Ridge)
block, was represented by skeletal fragments of
biostromal organisms. The transport of carbonate plat-
form debris was controlled mainly by eustatic and cli-
matic fluctuations (in this respect, the role of tectonic
movements was not as dominant as supposed by Gawlick
& Schlagintweit 2006). This fact points to the assump-
tion of a passive character of this block. On the other
hand, occasional occurrence of limestone breccia derived
from destroyed several tens of meters thick pile of older
sedimentary sequence was rather connected with the ac-
tivity of normal synsedimentary faults (Figs. 13—14). The
late Early Jurassic activity of these extensional faults, ac-
companied by exhalative hydrothermal vents was docu-
mented by Toarcian manganese and ferroan accumulations
(Jach & Dudek 2005). The tensional character of these
faults was also documented by numerous small extru-
sions of basic volcanics during the Valanginian and
Aptian—early Albian times (Hovorka & Spišiak 1993). Fi-
nally, the Zliechov Basin was affected by rapid deepening
during the early Albian, when sedimentation of the fine-
clastic Poruba Formation began.


The development of the Zliechov Basin represents a

typical example of a tensional basin in the centre of the
Alpine-Carpathian microcontinent. Two critical stages re-
corded by uppermost Triassic—lowermost Jurassic and up-
permost Jurassic—mid-Cretaceous sequences have been
studied by the bed-by-bed method in a net of continuous
sections. The correlation of quantitative data used in the
paper allows us to evaluate the development of a sedimen-
tary basin inserted between two thicker crustal blocks. The
composition and distribution of clastic particles in pelagic
sedimentary sequences was demonstrated as a useful tracer
of mobility in adjacent areas.

Acknowledgments: Author express its sincere thanks to
Dr. Ján Soták, prof. Dušan Plašienka, prof. Zdeněk
Vašíček, and Dr. Jozef Wieczorek for their critical remarks,
which improved basic ideas of the manuscript. The study
was sponsored by the VEGA 6026 Scientific Grant.


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