Continental crust (density ~2.8 g·cm-3) resists subduction into the earth's mantle (~3.3 g·cm-3) because of buoyancy. However, more than 20 recognized ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) terranes have been documented; these occurrences demonstrate that not only is continental crust subducted to depths as great as 150 km, but also that some supracrustal rocks were then exhumed to the earth's surface. UHP terranes are composed of mainly supracrustal rocks that contain minor amounts of minerals such as coesite or diamond, indicative of P > 2.5 GPa. In general, quartzofeldspathic units are thoroughly back reacted, and only mafic eclogite lenses and boudins retain scattered UHP phases. These index minerals are restricted to micron-scale inclusions in chemically and mechanically resistant zircon, garnet, and a few other strong container minerals, and are difficult to identify by conventional petrologic studies. The continental rocks were subjected to UHP metamorphism at T ranging from ~700 to 950°C and P > 2.8 to 5.0 GPa, corresponding to depths of ~100 to 150 km. These UHP units were subsequently exhumed to crustal depths and subjected to intense hydration and amphibolite-facies overprint. Widespread Barrovian-type metamorphism in many collisional orogens may mask an earlier, higher-pressure metamorphic history. We suspect that coesite-bearing UHP rocks were once generated in the majority of exhumed collisional orogens. The recent finding of coesite inclusions in rare Himalayan eclogites and country rock gneisses is a typical example. We use the Himalayan model to illustrate UHP metamorphism and subduction of continental crustal rocks to mantle depths and later Barrovian-type overprint during exhumation. Himalayan UHP eclogites and adjacent gneisses were formed at mantle depths > 100 km at 46 to 52 Ma. These rocks were exhumed to crustal depths and subjected to Barrovian amphibolite- to granulite-facies metamorphism; associated magmatism occurred at 30 to 15 Ma. The Himalayan metamorphic belt was domally uplifted and the mountain-building process initiated since 11 Ma, when underthrusting of the Indian tectosphere beneath the Lesser Himalayas occurred.
ASJC Scopus subject areas