P-T-t evidence for mechanisms of vertical tectonic motion in a contractional orogen: North-western US and Canadian Cordillera

D. L. Whitney, R. B. Miller, S. R. Paterson

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The > 1800 km long Coast Mountains-North Cascades orogen of the Canadian Cordillera and north-western US developed as a continental magmatic arc. Metamorphic rocks in the orogen contain wide-spread evidence for burial of supracrustal rocks to depths of c. 40 km, followed by nearly isothermal decompression to depths of < 10 km. Near many shallowly-emplaced, mid-Cretaceous plutons, low-pressure contact metamorphic effects were overprinted by high-pressure regional metamorphic minerals and textures, as evidenced by kyanite±staurolite pseudomorphs after andalusite in metapelitic rocks. Therefore, near-pluton rocks record the loading history of the orogen. Metapelitic rocks not associated with plutons only preserve evidence for high-pressure conditions and/or high-temperature decompression, as indicated, for example, by sillimanite and cordierite after kyanite and garnet, respectively. Petrological evidence for burial and decompression is therefore recorded in different rocks. Various regions of the orogen differ in timing of metamorphism, the overall shape of P-T paths and the relative timing and regional extent of the high-pressure event, but most of these data and observations are consistent with thrusting and/or pure shear thickening as primary loading mechanisms throughout the orogen, as opposed to magma-dominated loading. This interpretation is further supported by comparison with thermal models, which demonstrate that the P-T paths are consistent with simultaneous thrusting and folding at a high initial geothermal gradient (35-40 °C km-1) in much of the orogen. A high geothermal gradient supports tectonic models invoking intra-arc contraction and suggests that magmatism played an important role in regional temperature-time paths. This tectonic-thermal history may be typical of other contractional orogens and illustrates the importance of large vertical displacement of crust in magmatic arcs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-90
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Metamorphic Geology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999


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