Archaean-Cambrian crustal development of East Antarctica: Metamorphic characteristics and tectonic implications

S. L. Harley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The East Antarctic Shield consists of a variety of Archaean and Proterozoic-Cambrian high-grade terranes that have distinct crustal histories and were amalgamated at various times in the Precambrian-Cambrian. High-grade Pan-African tectonism at 600-500 Ma is recognized from four distinct belts: the Dronning Maud Land, Lützow-Holm Bay, Prydz Bay and Denman Glacier Belts. These high-grade belts juxtapose distinct Mesoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic crustal provinces (Maud, Rayner and Wilkes), the Rauer Terrane, and have also marginally affected Archaean cratonic remnants in the Napier Complex and southern Prince Charles Mountains. The Wilkes Province experienced its principal tectonothermal events prior to 1130 Ma and was not affected by the younger events that characterize the Maud Province (1150 and 1030-990 Ma), the Rayner Province (990-920 Ma) and the Rauer Terrane (1030-990 Ma). These differences between the isotopic/event records of the basement provinces now separated by the Pan-African belts require that the older provinces were not formerly parts of a continuous 'Grenville' belt as proposed in the SW US-East Antartic model. East Antartica was not a single unified crustal block within either East Gondwana or Rodinia until the Cambrian, which is now demonstrated to be the key phase of high-grade and ultrahigh-temperature (UHT) metamorphism associated with supercontinent assembly. The high-grade Pan-African tectonism is characterized by extensive infracrustal melting, clockwise P-T paths, rapid post-peak exhumation along isothermal decompression paths to shallow-or mid-crustal levels by 500 Ma and the generation, at least locally, of UHT conditions. A significant flux of heat from the mantle into the deep and initially overthickened crust is required to produce these observed metamorphic effects. Whilst the thermal evolution can be explained by models that invoke the removal of most of the lithospheric mantle following crustal thickening and prior to rapid extension of the remaining crust, these one-dimensional models are inconsistent with present crustal thicknesses of 25-35 km in the Pan-African domains of the East Antarctic Shield.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-230
Number of pages28
JournalGeological Society Special Publication
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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