Fig. 1 Imbricate fan in a thrust system with a basal décollement[1][2]

Décollement (dé-collé-ment) is a gliding plane between two rock masses. In French, "décoller" means "to detach from" or "to rip off" and was first used by geologists studying the structure of the Swiss Jura Mountains,[3]

[4] but is also known as a detachment zone. This is a structure of strata owing to deformation, resulting in independent styles of deformation in the rocks above and below. In a compressional setting it is associated with folding and overthrusting.[5] In an extensional setting décollements can be formed in a number of different ways.



The term came into use in 1907 when A. Buxtorf released his paper that theorised that the Jura is the frontal part of a décollement nappe rooting in the faraway Swiss Alps.[6][7] The décollement hypothesis of Buxtorf, although new for the Jura, was not novel at all for the Alps. Marcel Alexandre Bertrand published a paper in 1884 that delt with Alpine nappism, décollement, thin-skinned tectonics was implied in that paper but the actual term was not used until Buxtorf's 1907 publication.[6][4]


Décollement is facilitated by body forces[8] and this has lead many researchers to equate décollement with gravity sliding. However, there is overwhelming evidence that much décollement is due to the surface forces that arise (push) at converging plate boundaries: Lubricating layers seem to be weak enough to permit development of stepped thrusts that originate at subduction zones and emerge far in the foreland. Sometimes an issue is made of whether this is overthrusting or underthrusting, but that is irrelevant mechanically because resistance to shear depends on relative motion.[9] A décollement horizon can either form due to high compressibility between bodies (usually in lithologies such as marls, shales and evaporites), or can form along planes of high pore pressures.[10] The depths of these structures range from a few to over 10 km[11] Two layers separated by the décollement layer can have different characteristics of tectonic deformation, they can act as a boundary between a brittle, (slip along the décollement), domain above and a zone with intense ductile deformation (flowing of solid rock) below the detachment surface.[12]

Typically, the basal detachment of the foreland part of a fold-thrust belt lies in a weak shale or evaporite at or near the basement rock-cover contact.[1] Rocks above the detachment are allochthonous in that they have been transported relative to their origianl location.[1] If the distance traveled is greater than 2 km then the slab of rock is considered a nappe.[6] In contrast, rocks that lie below the detachment are autochthonous, in that they have not been transported by fault slip and thus lie in their original position.[1] Geologists sometimes refer to the style of deformation in which faulting and folding occur only above a regional basal detachment as thin-skinned tectonics,[1] but décollements can take place in thick-skinned deformation as well.[13]

Compressional setting

In a fold-thrust belt a décollement is the lowest detachment and this type of structure can form in the foreland basin of a Subduction zone.[1] The belt may contain higher level detachments, an imbricate fan (see Fig. 1) of thrust faults and duplexes, as well as several detachment horizons, but they all lie above the décollement.[1] In the condition of tectonic compression, the layer above the décollement layer is apt to develop more intense deformation than other layers, and the deformation in the layer under the décollement layer is weaker.[14]

Effect of friction

Décollements are responsible for duplex formation, which evolution and geometry vary in styles and greatly influence the dynamics of the thrust wedge.[15] The amount of friction that occurs along the décollement has an effect on the shape of the wedge. The resulting low-angle slope of the frontal part of the wedge reflects the low-friction upper décollement, whereas higher slope angles are a consequence of the higher basal friction décollement.[2]

Types of folding

There are two different ideas on the type of folding that occurs with décollements in a fold-thrust belt. Concentric folding, (unform bed thickness), is necessarily accompanied by detachment or décollement as part of thrust-fault deformation.[16] Another author notes that most folding is disharmonic, that is, the from of such folds is not uniform throughout the stratigraphic column.[17]

Fig. 2[18][12]

Extensional setting

Décollements that occur in an extensional setting are typically acccompanied by tectonic denudation and high cooling rates.[6] Four ways of décollements occuring in an extensional setting are a megalandslide, in situ ductile stretching or intrusion and rooted, low angle normal faults, high angle normal faults.[19][12]

  1. The megalandslide model shows extension with normal faults near the original source and shortening further away from the source.[19]
  2. The in situ model shows numerous normal faults overlaying one large décollement.[19]
  3. The rooted, low angle normal fault model shows the décollement as a narrow zone of decoupling between two thin sheets of rock. Towards the thick end of the upper plate, extensional faulting may be negligible or absent, but towards the thin end it loses its ability to remain coherent and becomes a thin-skinned extensinal fault terrane.[19]
  4. Décollements can form from high angle normal faults by being uplifted in a second stage of extension, which allows the exhumation of a metamorphic core complex. The stages are (as seen in Fig. 2), a half graben forms, stress orientation is not perturbed, because of high fault friction. Next, elevated pore pressure (Pp) leads to low effective friction that forces σ1 to be fault parallel in footwall. Low-angle fault forms and is ready to act as décollement. Then, the upper crust is thinned above décollement by normal faulting. New high-angle faults control décollement propagation and help crustal exhumation. Finally, major and rapid horizontal extension raises isostatically and isothermally. Décollement develops as antiform that migrates toward shallower depths.[12]


Jura Décollement

This structure is located in the Jura Mountains that run just north of the Alps and originally theorized as a folded décollement nappe by A. Buxtorf in 1907.[6][7] The thin-skinned nappe was sheared off on Triassic evaporites that were deposited up to 1 km thick.[20][6][21] The frontal (northwest and west) basal thrust of the Jura décollement fold-and-thrust belt forms the most external limit of the Alpine orogenic wedge with the youngest fold-and-thrust activity.[22] The Mesozoic and Cenozoic cover of the fold-and-thrust belt and the adjacent Molasse Basin have been deformed over the weak basal décollement and displaced by some 20 km and more toward the northwest.[20]

Appalachian-Ouachita Décollement

The Appalachian-Ouachita orogen along the eastern and southern margin of North America includes a late Paleozoic external fold-thrust belt in which the thrust faults exhibit a characteristic thin-skinned flat-and ramp geometry. The geometry of the basal décollement is related to lateral and vertical variations in stratigraphic facies. The basal décollement of the fold thrust belt varies in stratigraphic level both along strike and across strike. The geometry of the décollement also reflects the shapes of promontories and embayments of the late Precambrian-early Paleozoic rifted margin.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Van Der Pluijm, Ben A. (2004). Earth Structure. New York, NY: W.W. Norton. pp. 457. ISBN 0-393-92467-X. 
  2. ^ a b Malavieille, Jacques (2010). Impact of erosion, sedimentation, and structural heritage on the structure and kinematics of orogenic wedges: Analog models and case studies. pp. 4. doi:10.1130/GSATG48.1. 
  3. ^ Bertrand, M. (1884). "Rapports de structure des Alpes de Glaris et du bassin houiller du Nord". Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France, 3rd series 12: 318–330. 
  4. ^ a b Bertrand, Marcel (1884). "Rapports de structure des Alpes de". Bull. Soc. g~oI.: 318-330. 
  5. ^ Bates, Robert L.; Julia A. Jackson (1984). Dictionary of Geological Terms (Third ed.). New York: Anchor Books. pp. 129. ISBN 0-385-18101-9. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f H.P. Laubscher, Basel (1988). "Décollement in the Alpine system: an overview". Geologische Rundschau 77 (1): 1-9. doi:10.1007/BF01848672. 
  7. ^ a b Buxtorf, A. (1907). "Zur Tektonik des Kettenjura". Berichte über die Versammlungen des Oberrheinischen Geologischen Verein: 29-38. 
  8. ^ Hubbert, M. K.; Rubey, W. W. (1959). "Role of fluid pressure in mechanics of overthrust faulting, 1. Mechanics of fluid-filled porous solids and its application to overthrust faulting". Geological Society of America Bulletin 70: 115-166. doi:10.1130/0016-7606(1959)​70[115:ROFPIM]​2.0.CO;2. 
  9. ^ Laubscher, H. P. (1987). "Décollement". Encyclopedia of Earth Science. doi:10.1007/3-540-31080-0_27. 
  10. ^ Ramsay, J, 1967, Folding and Fracturing of Rocks, McGraw-Hill ISBN 978-0-07-051170-5
  11. ^ H. McBride, John; J.M. Pugin, D. Hatcher Jr. (2007). "Scale independence of décollement thrusting". Geological Society of America Memoirs: 109-126. doi:10.1130/2007.1200(07). 
  12. ^ a b c d Chery, Jean (2001). "Core complex mechanics: From the Gulf of Corinth to the Snake Range". Geology 29: 439-442. doi:10.1130/​0091-7613(2001)​029<0439:CCMFTG>​2.0.CO;2. 
  13. ^ Bigi, Sabina; Doglioni, Carlo (2002). "Thrust vs Normal Fault Decollements in The Central Appennines". Bollettino della Società geologica italiana 1: 161-166. http://tetide.geo.uniroma1.it/sciterra/sezioni/doglioni/Publ_download/DecollementDepthCentApennines.pdf. 
  14. ^ LiangJie, Tang; Yang KeMing, Jin WenZheng, LÜ ZhiZhou,Yu YiXin (2008). "Multi-level decollement zones and detachment deformation of Longmenshan thrust belt, Sichuan Basin, southwest China". Science in China Series D: Earth Sciences 51 (suppl. 2): 32-43. doi:10.1007/s11430-008-6014-9. 
  15. ^ Konstantinovskaya, E.; J. Malavieille (April 20). "Thrust wedges with décollement :levels and syntectonic erosion: A view from analog models". Tectonophysics 502 (3-4): 336-350. doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2011.01.020. 
  16. ^ Dahlstrom, C.D.A. (1969). "The upper detachment in concentric folding". Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology 17 (3): 326-347. 
  17. ^ Billings, M.P. (1954). Structural Geology (2nd ed.). New York: Prentice-Hall. pp. 514. 
  18. ^ Warren, John K. (2006). Evaporites: Sediments, Resources and Hydrocarbons. pp. 375-415. doi:10.1007/3-540-32344-9_6. 
  19. ^ a b c d Wernicke, Brian (25). "Low-angle normal faults in the Basin and Range Province: nappe tectonics in an extending orogen". Nature 291: 645-646. doi:10.1038/291645a0. 
  20. ^ a b Sommaruga, A. (1998). "Décollement tectonics in the Jura foreland fold-and-thrust belt". Marine and Petroleum Geology 16: 111-134. doi:10.1016/S0264-8172(98)00068-3. 
  21. ^ Laubscher, Hans (2008). "The Grenchenberg conundrum in the Swiss Jura: a case for the centenary of the thin-skin décollement nappe model (Buxtorf 1907)". Swiss Journal of Geosciences 101: 41-60. doi:10.1007/s00015-008-1248-2. 
  22. ^ Mosar, Jon (1999). "Present-day and future tectonic underplating in the western Swiss". Earth and Planetary Science Letters 39. doi:10.1016/S0012-821X(99)00238-1. https://www.unifr.ch/geoscience/geology/research_sites/Mosar_Research/PDFfiles/alps-presentfuture.pdf. 
  23. ^ Thomas, William A. (1988). "SStratigraphic framework of the geometry of the basal decollement of the Appalachian-Ouachita fold-thrust belt". Geologische Rundschau 77 (1): 183-190. doi:10.1007/BF01848683. 

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  • décollement — [ dekɔlmɑ̃ ] n. m. • 1635; de décoller ♦ Action de décoller, état de ce qui est décollé. Méd. Séparation d un organe, ou d une partie d organe, des régions anatomiques qui lui sont normalement adhérentes. Décollement de la rétine. ● décollement… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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  • Décollement — [dekolma̱n̶g̶; zu frz. décoller = losleimen, loslösen] s; s, s: Loslösung, Abscherung der Haut von der Muskulatur (z. B. bei Quetschverletzungen) …   Das Wörterbuch medizinischer Fachausdrücke

  • DÉCOLLEMENT — n. m. Action de décoller, de se décoller ou Résultat de cette action. Il se dit, par extension, en termes de Chirurgie, d’un Organe ou d’un tissu qui se détache d’un autre auquel il était adhérent. Dans certains abcès, il y a décollement de la… …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 8eme edition (1935)

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  • DÉCOLLEMENT — s. m. Action de décoller, de se décoller ; ou État de ce qui est décollé.  Il se dit, par extension, en Chirurgie, D un organe qui se détache d un autre auquel il était adhérent. Dans certains abcès, il y a décollement de la peau …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 7eme edition (1835)

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  • Decollement — De|col|le|ment [dekɔlə mã:] das; s, s <aus fr. décollement »Ablösung« zu décoller, vgl. ↑Decollage> Ablösung der Haut von der Muskulatur durch stumpfe Gewalteinwirkung (z. B. bei Quetschverletzungen; Med.) …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

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