Recycling of crustal materials through study of ultrahigh-pressure minerals in collisional orogens, ophiolites, and mantle xenoliths: A review

Juhn G. Liou, Tatsuki Tsujimori, Jingsui Yang, R. Y. Zhang, W. G. Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Newly recognized occurrences of ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) minerals including diamonds in ultrahigh-temperature (UH. T) felsic granulites of orogenic belts, in chromitites associated with ophiolitic complexes, and in mantle xenoliths suggest the recycling of crustal materials through deep subduction, mantle upwelling, and return to the Earth's surface. This circulation process is supported by crust-derived mineral inclusions in deep-seated zircons, chromites, and diamonds from collision-type orogens, from eclogitic xenoliths in kimberlites, and from chromitities of several Alpine-Himalayan and Polar Ural ophiolites; some of these minerals contain low-atomic number elements typified by crustal isotopic signatures. Ophiolite-type diamonds in placer deposits and as inclusions in chromitites together with numerous highly reduced minerals and alloys appear to have formed near the mantle transition zone. In addition to ringwoodite and inferred stishovite, a number of nanometric minerals have been identified as inclusions employing state-of-the-art analytical tools. Reconstitution of now-exsolved precursor UH. P phases and recognition of subtle decompression microstructures produced during exhumation reflect earlier UH. P conditions. For example, Tibetan chromites containing exsolution lamellae of coesite. +. diopside suggest that the original chromitites formed at P > 9-10. GPa at depths of > 250-300. km. The precursor phase most likely had a Ca-ferrite or a Ca-titanite structure; both are polymorphs of chromite and (at 2000. °C) would have formed at minimum pressures of P > 12.5 or 20. GPa respectively. Some podiform chromitites and host peridotites contain rare minerals of undoubted crustal origin, including zircon, feldspars, garnet, kyanite, andalusite, quartz, and rutile; the zircons possess much older U-Pb ages than the time of ophiolite formation. These UH. P mineral-bearing chromitite hosts evidently had a deep-seated evolution prior to extensional mantle upwelling and partial melting at shallow depths to form the overlying ophiolite complexes. These new findings together with stable isotopic and inclusion characteristics of diamonds provide compelling evidence for profound underflow of both oceanic and continental lithosphere, recycling of surface 'organic' carbon into the lower mantle, and ascent to the Earth's surface through mantle upwelling. Intensified study of UH. P granulite-facies lower crustal basement and ophiolitic chromitites should allow a better understanding of the geodynamics of subduction and crustal cycling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-420
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Asian Earth Sciences
Publication statusPublished - Dec 5 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Collisional orogens
  • Crustal materials
  • Mantle xenoliths
  • Ophiolites
  • Recycling
  • UHP minerals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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