The deep structure of the Alps based on the CIFALPS seismic experiment: a synthesis

M. G. Malusà*, S. Guillot, L. Zhao, A. Paul, S. Solarino, T. Dumont, S. Schwartz, C. Aubert, P. Baccheschi, E. Eva, Y. Lu, C. Lyu, S. Pondrelli, S. Salimbeni, W. Sun, H. Yuan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The European Alps are the site where classic geologic concepts such as nappe theory, continental subduction and slab breakoff have been first proposed. However, the deep tectonic structure of the Alps has long been poorly constrained by independent geophysical evidence. This review paper summarizes the main results of the CIFALPS passive seismic experiment, that was launched by Chinese, French and Italian scientists in the 2010s to provide new insights on the deep tectonic structure of the Alpine region. The application of a wide range of tomographic methods to the analysis of a single fossil subduction zone makes the CIFALPS experiment a potential reference case for the analysis of other orogenic belts. Major results include: (i) the first seismic evidence of European continental crust subducted into the Adriatic upper mantle, beneath the place where coesite was first recognized in continental (U)HP rocks in the Alps; (ii) evidence of a major involvement of the mantle wedge during (U)HP rock exhumation; (iii) evidence of a serpentinized plate interface favoring continental subduction; (iv) evidence of a continuous slab beneath the Western and Central Alps, ruling out the classic model of slab breakoff magmatism; (v) evidence of a polyphase development of anisotropic fabrics in the Alpine mantle, either representing active mantle flows or fossil fabrics inherited from previous rifting stages. Detection of these major tectonic features allows to propose interpretive geologic cross-sections at the scale of the lithosphere and upper mantle, providing a baseline for future analyses of active continental margins.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020GC009466
Pages (from-to)1-42
Number of pages42
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


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