The Theodul Glacier Unit, a slab of pre-Alpine rocks in the Alpine meta-ophiolite of Zermatt-Saas, Western Alps

Kurt Bucher*, Tobias Björn Weisenberger, Sebastian Weber, Oliver Klemm, Fernando Corfu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The Theodul-Glacier-Unit (TGU) is a 100 m thick and 2 km long slab of pre-Alpine schist, gneiss and mafic rocks tectonically emplaced in the eclogite-facies Zermatt-Saas meta-ophiolite nappe (ZSU). The meta-sedimentary rocks occur mostly as garnet-phengite schists with locally cm-sized garnet porphyroblasts. The metavolcanic basic rocks are present as variably retrogressed eclogites showing a continental basalt signature and contain abundant zircon, which is unusual for basalts. The zircons dated with the U–Pb system yield an upper intercept age of 295 ± 16 Ma and a lower intercept age of 145 ± 34 Ma. The early Permian age is interpreted to represent the age of high-grade granulite facies metamorphism, evidence of which is also preserved in the cores of garnet porphyroblasts of the Grt-Ph schists. The lower intercept age corresponds to the time of continental breakup and the initiation of the Tethys in the Mid-Jurassic; these events may have created the TGU as an extensional allochton. Eclogite facies metamorphism recorded by the TGU rocks occurred during Alpine subduction at 57 Ma, the Lu–Hf age of TGU eclogite garnets. The TGU reached a depth of about 53 km at P–T conditions of 1.7 GPa and 520 °C derived from both, eclogite and Grt-Ph schist. This is in contrast to the ZSU surrounding the TGU with a reported subduction depth of more than 80 km at 43 Ma. It is proposed here that TGU and ZSU were subducted separately out of sequence. After juxtaposition of the two units during late Alpine thrusting and folding forming the present day geometry of nappes in the Zermatt-Saas region both units were progressively metamorphosed to about 650 MPa and 470 °C. This late prograde metamorphism at 34 Ma produced oligoclase + magnesio-hornblende in the matrix of Grt-Ph schists and eclogites. The derived TGU data document a complete Wilson Cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1
JournalSwiss Journal of Geosciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

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Other keywords

  • Eclogite
  • Granulite
  • Ophiolite
  • Permian zircon
  • Theodul-Glacier-Unit
  • Zermatt-Saas Unit


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