High‐pressure metamorphism in the Western Cordillera of North America: an example from the Skagit Gneiss, North Cascades

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The Skagit Gneiss, a major component of the crystalline core of the North Cascades, was metamorphosed during a mid‐Cretaceous(?) to early Tertiary high‐P event driven by the collision of the Insular and Intermontane superterranes. Maximum pressures recorded by metapelitic rocks are 8–10 kbar at 650–725° C. High pressures are also indicated by coexisting staurolite and hornblende in amphibolites in the Skagit Gneiss and adjacent Cascade River Schist. Mineral reactions continued during nearly isothermal decompression from 8–10 kbar to c. 3–5 kbar. Early high‐P minerals (e.g. kyanite) are present as armoured relics in garnet in gneisses that contain sillimanite and cordierite in the groundmass. Skeletal relics of kyanite are also present in the groundmass of lower‐grade, staurolite‐bearing schists that contain texturally later cordierite. This matrix kyanite may have been preserved as a result of rapid uplift following initial decompression at high temperature. These results represent a revision of the metamorphic history of the Skagit Gneiss, which was formerly thought to have experienced only relatively low‐P Barrovian metamorphism. Qualitative estimates of metamorphic conditions based on stable matrix mineral assemblages result in an underestimation of maximum pressures because mineral reactions continued during decompression. Geobarometric results for the Skagit Gneiss are interpreted as evidence for major crustal thickening in the North Cascades. Recognition that pressures of c. 9 kbar were attained supports a contractional model for North Cascades orogenesis and requires that tectonic syntheses account for the burial of the Skagit Gneiss protoliths to a depth of c. 25–30 km.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-85
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Metamorphic Geology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1992


  • North Cascades
  • Skagit Gneiss.
  • high‐pressure metamorphism
  • isothermal decompression


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