From two examples of orogenic domains, some general mechanisms significant of late orogenic tectonic processes in mountain belts are characterized. The Basin and Range province and the Variscan belt in the French Massif Central have both suffered important compressional orogenic crustal thickening, and the results of late orogenic processes can be observed in the field. Both areas are covered by deep seismic profiling providing constraints on the geometry of a crust which has been restored to a normal thickness. Late orogenic features from the two domains are compared at different scales and their tectonic significance for extension mechanisms is discussed. At the scale of the orogenic domains, the most prominent tectonic features are the metamorphic core complexes (MCC) which expose deformed rocks from the middle crust generally affected by high‐temperature, low to medium pressure metamorphism, partial melting, and widespread granite emplacement. In these MCC, large‐scale extensional shear zones present an intense mylonitic deformation characterized by low dipping foliations and pervasive stretching lineations. They show a complete evolution from early deep‐seated ductile deformation (generally achieved under high‐temperature, low to medium pressure metamorphism) to a late shallow brittle stage characterized by cataclastic deformation. The late detachment stage generally controls the development of asymmetrical extensional sedimentary basins filled by continental deposits. Two main geometries of MCC are defined that are characterized by differing geometry and kinematics of low‐angle shear zones. In the first case, two low‐angle shear zones with opposite vergence develop along the flanks of a roughly symmetrical MCC (often one system is dominant over the other). The second geometry characterizes asymmetrical MCC bounded by a single normal shear zone which is upwarped during uplift and doming of the core caused by tectonic denudation. Detailed strain analysis performed in several extensional shear zones shows that the deformation regime is heterogeneous and results from general noncoaxial flow. Deformation along the shear zones evolves progressively from slight homogeneous pure shear strain to intense heterogeneous noncoaxial shear strain. Strain distribution within the lower crust is less well constrained by field observation; however, analogies between COCORP and ECORS deep seismic reflection profiles give important constraints on crustal structure. Wide zones of highly subhorizontally layered lower crust and a flat high‐amplitude reflection Moho characterize both evolved orogenic domains suggesting that major deformations and flow occur within the lower crust during extension. A kinematic model involving heterogeneous crustal deformation and regional scale flow fits relatively well with late orogenic structures observed in continental domains. A weak, hot upper mantle allows large‐scale flow of lower crust material from zones of deep ductile extension to uplifted domains of upper crustal denudation. Heterogeneous strain is accommodated by low‐angle extensional shear zones from localized zones of extension in the brittle crust to ductile lower crust. Combined pure and simple shear occurs along localized shear zones, whereas at the scale of the whole lithosphere, deformation nearly corresponds to a vertical pure shear. Such deformation processes which affect a thick and hot crust seem to be common in both compared domains suggesting that late orogenic extensional processes are slightly dependent of the type of contractional tectonics. Thus, as much in the Andean‐type west American Cordilleran belt as in the collision‐type Variscan belt, late orogenic processes produced similar extensional features.
Tectonics – Wiley
Published: Oct 1, 1993
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