Buoyancy-driven, rapid exhumation of ultrahigh-pressure metamorphosed continental crust

W. G. Ernst, S. Maruyama, S. Wallis

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Preservation of ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) minerals formed at depths of 90-125 km require unusual conditions. Our subduction model involves underflow of a salient (250 ± 150 km wide, 90-125 km long) of continental crust embedded in cold, largely oceanic crust-capped lithosphere; loss of leading portions of the high-density oceanic lithosphere by slab break-off, as increasing volumes of microcontinental material enter the subduction zone; buoyancy-driven return toward midcrustal levels of a thin (2-15 km thick), low-density slice; finally, uplift, backfolding, normal faulting, and exposure of the UHP terrane. Sustained over ≃20 million years, rapid (≃5 mm/year) exhumation of the thin-aspect ratio UHP sialic sheet caught between cooler banging-wall plate and refrigerating, downgoing lithosphere allows withdrawal of heat along both its upper and lower surfaces. The intracratonal position of most UHP complexes reflects consumption of an intervening ocean basin and introduction of a sialic promontory into the subduction zone. UHP metamorphic terranes consist chiefly of transformed, yet relatively low- density continental crust compared with displaced mantle material-otherwise such complexes could not return to shallow depths. Relatively rare metabasaltic, metagabbroic, and metacherty lithologies retain traces of phases characteristic of UHP conditions because they are massive, virtually impervious to fluids, and nearly anhydrous. In contrast, H2O-rich quartzofeldspathic, gneissose/schistose, more permeable metasedimentary and metagranitic units have backreacted thoroughly, so coesite and other UHP silicates are exceedingly rare. Because of the initial presence of biogenic carbon, and its especially sluggish transformation rate, UHP paragneisses contain the most abundantly preserved crustal diamonds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9532-9537
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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