What are the conditions under which lithospheric extension drives exhumation of the deep orogenic crust during the formation of gneiss domes? The mechanical link between extension of shallow crust and flow of deep crust is investigated using two-dimensional numerical experiments of lithospheric extension in which the crust is 60 km thick and the deep-crust viscosity and density parameter space is explored. Results indicate that the style of extension of the shallow crust and the path, magnitude, and rate of flow of deep crust are dynamically linked through the deep-crust viscosity, with density playing an important role in experiments with a high-viscosity deep crust. Three main groups of domes are defined based on their mechanisms of exhumation across the viscosity-density parameter space. In the first group (low-viscosity, low-density deep crust), domes develop by lateral and upward flow of the deep crust at km m.y−1 velocity rates (i.e. rate of experiment boundary extension). In this case, extension in the shallow crust is localized on a single interface, and the deep crust traverses the entire thickness of the crust to the Earth's near-surface in 5 m.y. This high exhuming power relies on the dynamic feedback between the flow of deep crust and the localization of extension in the shallow crust. The second group (intermediate-viscosity, low-density deep crust) has less exhuming power because the stronger deep crust flows less readily and instead accommodates more uniform extension, which imparts distributed extension to the shallow crust. The third group represents the upper limits of viscosity and density for the deep crust; in this case the low buoyancy of the deep crust results in localized thinning of the crust with large upward motion of the Moho and lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary. These numerical experiments test the exhuming power of the deep crust in the formation of extensional gneiss domes.
- Gneiss domes
- Numerical modeling