Ultra-high-temperature (UHT) metamorphism occurs when the continental crust is subjected to temperatures of greater than 900 °C at depths of 20–40 km. UHT metamorphism provides evidence that major tectonic processes may operate under thermal conditions more extreme than those generally produced in numerical models of orogenesis. Evidence for UHT metamorphism is recorded in mineral assemblages formed in magnesian pelites, supported by high-temperature indicators including mesoperthitic feldspar, aluminous orthopyroxene and high Zr contents in rutile. Recent theoretical, experimental and thermodynamic data set constraints on metamorphic phase equilibria in FMAS, KFMASH and more complex chemical systems have greatly improved quantification of the P–T conditions and paths of UHT metamorphic belts. However, despite these advances key issues that remain to be addressed include improving experimental constraints on the thermodynamic properties of sapphirine, quantifying the effects of oxidation state on sapphirine, orthopyroxene and spinel stabilities and quantifying the effects of H2O–CO2 in cordierite on phase equilibria and reaction texture analysis. These areas of uncertainty mean that UHT mineral assemblages must still be examined using theoretical and semi-quantitative approaches, such as P(–T)–μ sections, and conventional thermobarometry in concert with calculated phase equilibrium methods. In the cases of UHT terranes that preserve microtextural and mineral assemblage evidence for steep or ‘near-isothermal’ decompression P–T paths, the presence of H2O and CO2 in cordierite is critical to estimates of the P–T path slopes, the pressures at which reaction textures have formed and the impact of fluid infiltration. Many UHT terranes have evolved from peak P–T conditions of 8–11 kbar and 900–1030 °C to lower pressure conditions of 8 to 6 kbar whilst still at temperature in the range of 950 to 800 °C. These decompressional P–T paths, with characteristic dP/dT gradients of ∼25 ± 10 bar °C−1, are similar in broad shape to those generated in deep-crustal channel flow models for the later stages of orogenic collapse, but lie at significantly higher temperatures for any specified pressure. This thermal gap presents a key challenge in the tectonic modelling of UHT metamorphism, with implications for the evolution of the crust, sub-crustal lithosphere and asthenospheric mantle during the development of hot orogens.
- fluid activity
- P–T paths