This study investigates exhumation processes in collisional orogens. A critical test between three modes of exhumation is presented based on a review of quantitative numerical and analogue modeling studies. The test is applied to the large tract of migmatites surrounding the Monashee Complex in the southeastern Canadian Cordillera. It reveals that the extensive and multidisciplinary database of this region is entirely compatible with the synconvergent channel-flow mode but not with critical wedge and gravitational collapse modes. We propose that a partially molten channel decoupled from its lid and base and started to flow in the middle crust toward the foreland at 100–90 Ma. A steady-state channel-flow system was established for the following ∼30 m.y., during which rocks at the front of the channel were exhumed to upper-crustal levels as they flowed above an underthrusting basement ramp. Flow was accommodated by oppositely verging shear zones bounding the channel, by internal ductile deformation, and by shortening in the foreland belt. The locus of flow migrated downward to exhume rocks of the Monashee Complex between 60 and 50 Ma by a similar process. The southeastern Canadian Cordillera thus constitutes an excellent natural analogue for the channel-flow model. In contrast to the commonly held view of large-magnitude extension and core complex formation, the role of extension was limited to the final ∼10–15 km of exhumation after 50 Ma.
- Received 29 January 2010.
- Revision received 21 September 2010.
- Accepted 5 October 2010.
- © 2011 Geological Society of America