Divergent plate motion drives rapid exhumation of (ultra)high pressure rocks

Jie Liao, Marco G. Malusà, Liang Zhao, Suzanne L Baldwin, Paul G Fitzgerald, Taras Gerya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

Exhumation of (ultra)high pressure [(U)HP] rocks by upper-plate divergent motion above an unbroken slab, first proposed in the Western Alps, has never been tested by numerical methods. We present 2D thermo-mechanical models incorporating subduction of a thinned continental margin beneath either a continental or oceanic upper plate, followed by upper-plate divergent motion away from the lower plate. Results demonstrate how divergent plate motion may trigger rapid exhumation of large volumes of (U)HP rocks directly to the Earth's surface, without the need for significant overburden removal by erosion. Model exhumation paths are fully consistent with natural examples for a wide range of upper-plate divergence rates. Exhumation rates are systematically higher than the divergent rate imposed to the upper plate, and the modeled size of exhumed (U)HP domes is invariant for different rates of upper-plate divergence. Major variations are instead predicted at depth for differing model scenarios, as larger amounts of divergent motion may allow mantle-wedge exhumation to shallow depth under the exhuming domes. The transient temperature increase, due to ascent of mantle-wedge material in the subduction channel, has a limited effect on exhumed continental (U)HP rocks already at the surface. We test two examples, the Cenozoic (U)HP terranes of the Western Alps (continental upper plate) and eastern Papua New Guinea (oceanic upper plate). The good fit between model predictions and the geologic record in these terranes encourages the application of these models globally to pre-Cenozoic (U)HP terranes where the geologic record of exhumation is only partly preserved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-80
Number of pages14
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume491
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

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Keywords

  • (U)HP rock exhumation
  • eastern Papua New Guinea
  • mantle-wedge exhumation
  • upper-plate divergent motion
  • Western Alps

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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