Structure and kinematics of the Jungfrau syncline, Faflertal (Valais, Alps), and its regional significance


The formation and structural evolution of the Jungfrau syncline is described, based on excellent outcrops occurring in the Lötschental, in the Central Alps of Switzerland. The quality of the outcrops allows us to demonstrate that the External Massifs of the Swiss Alps have developed due to internal folding.

The Jungfrau syncline, which separates the autochtonous Gastern dome from the Aar massif basement gneiss folds, is composed of slivers of basement rocks with their Mesozoic sedimentary cover. In the Inner Faflertal, a side valley of the Lötschental, the 200 m thick syncline comprises four units, the Gastern massif with a reduced Mesozoic sedimentary cover in a normal stratigraphic succession, two units of overturned basement rocks with their Mesozoic sedimentary cover, and the overturned lower limb of the Tschingelhorn gneiss fold of the Aar massif with lenses of its sedimentary cover. Stratigraphy shows that the lower units, related to the Gastern massif, are condensed and that the upper units, deposited farther away from a Gastern paleo-high, form a more complete sequence, linked to the Doldenhorn Meso-Cenozoic basin fill. The integration of these local observations with published regional data leads to the following model. On the northern margin of the Doldenhorn basin, at the northern fringe of the Alpine Tethys, the pre-Triassic crystalline basement and its Mesozoic sedimentary cover were folded by ductile deformation at temperatures above 300 °C and in the presence of high fluid pressures, as the Helvetic and Penninic nappes were overthrusted towards the northwest during the main Alpine deformation phase. The viscosity contrast between the basement gneisses and the sediments caused the formation of large basement anticlines and tight sedimentary synclines (mullion-type structures). The edges of basement blocks bounded by pre-cursor SE-dipping normal faults at the northwestern border of the Doldenhorn basin were deformed by simple shear, creating overturned slices of crystalline rocks with their sedimentary cover in what now forms the Jungfrau syncline. The localisation of ductile deformation in the vicinity of pre-existing SE-dipping faults is thought to have been helped by the circulation of fluids along the faults; these fluids would have been released from the Mesozoic sediments by metamorphic dehydration reactions accompanied by creep and dynamic recrystallisation of quartz at temperatures above 300 °C. Quantification of the deformation suggests a strain ellipsoid with a ratio (1+ e1 / 1+ e3) of approximately 1000.

The Jungfrau syncline was deformed by more brittle NW-directed shear creating well-developed shear band cleavages at a late stage, after cooling by uplift and erosion. It is suggested that the external massifs of the Alps are basement gneiss folds created at temperatures of 300 °C by detachment through ductile deformation of the upper crust of the European plate as it was underthrusted below the Adriatic plate.

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Correspondence to Albrecht Steck.

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Manuscript received September 12, 2008; Revision accepted August 8, 2009

Editorial Handling: A. G. Milnes

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Krayenbuhl, T., Steck, A. Structure and kinematics of the Jungfrau syncline, Faflertal (Valais, Alps), and its regional significance. Swiss J. Geosci. 102, 441 (2009).

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  • Alps
  • nappe tectonics
  • fold nappes
  • ductile deformation