Archean regional metamorphism of the isua supracrustal belt, Southern West Greenland: Implications for a driving force for archean plate tectonics

Mamoru Hayashi, Tsuyoshi Komiya, Yasuo Nakamura, Shigenori Maruyama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


The Isua supracrustal belt (∼ 3.8 Ga) constitutes the oldest accretionary complex in the world. Petrochemical and geothermobarometric studies of more than 1500 rock samples of the Isua belt have enabled us to estimate the extent of regional metamorphism, the petrotectonic environment, and the subduction-zone geothermal gradient in the Archean. The following line of evidence indicates progressive, prograde metamorphism from greenschist (Zone A) through albite-epidote-amphibolite (Zone B) to amphibolite facies (Zones C and D) in the northeastern part of the Isua supracrustal belt: (1) the systematic change of mineral paragenesis in metabasites and metapelites; (2) progressive change of the composition of major metamorphic minerals, including plagioclase, amphibole, chlorite, epidote, and garnet; (3) normal zoning of amphibole and garnet; and (4) the absence of relict minerals of high-grade amphibolitic metamorphism even in the lowest metamorphic zone. Metabasites of the Isua belt vary extremely in Mg#, causing a complex mineral paragenesis throughout the area. For example, a high FeO content of metabasites expands the stability field of hornblende to both lower and higher grades. The compositional and mineralogical characteristics above also indicate that the Isua supracrustal belt underwent a single regional metamorphic event, involving minor contact metamorphism and mylonitization; however, weak ocean-floor metamorphism and low-grade regional metamorphism during accretion cannot be ruled out. Metamorphic pressures and temperatures are estimated to be 5-7 kbar from garnet-hornblende-plagioclase-quartz geobarometry and 380-550°C from garnet-biotite geothermometry in Zones B to D. These P-T estimates indicate an intermediate P/T ratio metamorphic facies series. Geological investigations and chronological constraints of the Isua metamorphic belt indicate that the regional metamorphism was related to the subduction of Archean lithosphere, and records a geothermal gradient for the Archean subduction zone that is much higher than geotherms for Phanerozoic subduction zones. The high geothermal gradient may have resulted from the young age of subducted lithosphere and high potential temperature of the mantle. The Archean high geothermal gradient led to melting of thick oceanic crust in a thin, descending oceanic plate, creating many huge granitic (tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite [TTG]) batholiths. Slab melting changed the oceanic crust (density = 3.07) to denser garnet-bearing assemblages (density = 3.55), implying that TTG melt extraction provided a potential driving force for Archean plate tectonics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1055-1115
Number of pages61
JournalInternational Geology Review
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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