Subduction and exhumation of ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) metamorphic terranes are typically envisaged as short-lived processes associated with the transition from oceanic subduction to continent-continent collision. Norway’s Western Gneiss Region, by comparison, is a giant, late-orogenic UHP terrane that underwent protracted residence at UHP conditions during the Scandian phase of the Caledonian orogeny followed by relatively slow exhumation. Here, we use two-dimensional numerical thermal-mechanical models to explore the tectonics of orogens of this type and the associated controls on the size of their UHP terranes and the duration of UHP metamorphism.
The models have four tectonic phases designed to capture the main stages of the Caledonian evolution: oceanic subduction and microcontinent accretion; continental margin subduction; plate quiescence; and postorogenic extension during plate divergence. Contrasting styles of exhumation are explored by varying the strength of the margin crust and investigating melt-induced weakening. The tectonic and metamorphic evolution of the Western Gneiss Region is consistent with a model in which continental margin crust was subducted beneath a thick orogenic wedge where it underwent metamorphism at (U)HP conditions for at least 15 million years (Myr) as subduction ended. The buoyant Baltican crust must have been especially strong in order to have stayed coupled to the underlying lithosphere during this phase, perhaps reflecting its refractory composition and/or a lack of fluids. Subsequent exhumation of the Western Gneiss Region can be explained by orogen-scale extension resulting from minor (∼100 km) plate divergence, with removal of the orogenic wedge by combined top-to-the-hinterland transport, normal faulting, and erosion. We conclude that large, long-duration UHP terranes are fundamentally different from transient smaller ones. The latter are often explained by the paradigm of buoyant exhumation. This paradigm is incomplete, but both types can be explained by control of the system by the exhumation number (ratio of buoyancy force to basal traction). By implication, the existence of this type of large UHP terrane is a consequence of the high strength of the subducted crust.
- Received 31 October 2014.
- Revision received 16 February 2015.
- Accepted 6 April 2015.
- © 2015 Geological Society of America