metamorphic core complex
Basin and Range
Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract This paper examines the first-order dynamic interactions between crustal shortening, extension, and volcanism in tectonic evolution in the North American Cordillera. The protracted crustal compression in the Mesozoic and early Cenozoic (110−55 Ma) contributed to the subsequent Tertiary extension by thermally weakening the lithosphere and producing an overthickened (〉50 km) and gravitationally unstable crust. In addition to post-kinematic burial heating, synkinematic thermal processes including conduction are shown significantly because of the long period of crustal contraction and the slow shortening rates (〈4 mm/yr). The effects of shear heating were probably limited for the same reasons. Localized delamination of the lithospheric mantle may have contributed to the abundant plutonism and high crustal temperature in the southeastern Canadian Cordillera at the end of the orogeny. Most early-stage extension in the Cordillera, characterized by formation of metamorphic core complexes, resulted from gravitational collapse of the overthickened crust. Plutionism may have facilitated strain localization, causing widespread crustal extension at relatively low stress levels. Crustal collapse, however, was unlikely the direct cause of the Basin-Range extension, because the gravitational stresses induced by crustal thickening are limited to the crust; only a small fraction of the gravitational stresses may be transmitted to the lithospheric mantle. Nor could core complex formation induce the voluminous mid-Tertiary volcanism, which requires major upwelling of the asthenosphere. While the causes of the asthenospheric upwelling are not clear, such processes could provide the necessary conditions for the Basin-Range extension: the driving force from thermally induced gravitational potential and a thermally weakened lithosphere. The complicated spatial and temporal patterns of volcanism and extension in the Basin and Range province may be partially due to the time-dependent competing effects of thermal weakening and rheological hardening associated with intrusion and underplating of mantle-derived magmas.
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