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Although the role of extensional tectonics in the exhumation of high-pressure metamorphic terranes is widely established, the kinematics of such deformation remains ambiguous. This paper outlines new field data from the Attic-Cycladic blueschist belt that suggest that distributed ductile strain plays a significant role in the extension and that, consequently, the role of major detachment faults may have been over-emphasized in previous studies. The high-pressure blueschist terrane (Ermoupolis Unit) of Syros shows abundant evidence of subhorizontal extension, manifest as layer boudinage and ductile thinning without the development of significant internal detachments. The deformation approximates to pure shear stretching that was heterogeneously distributed in space and time. Minor zones of asymmetric shear are interpreted not as through-going extensional shear zones but as structures that maintain compatibility between zones of differential stretching. The progression of deformation is charted through the systematic development of increasingly lower-pressure metamorphic assemblages. However, most of the decompression (potentially from 20 kbar to 6 kbar) occurred within the blueschist stability field, as the rocks were actively extending. Heterogeneous retrogression and concomitant deformation are believed to relate to the local chemistry and availability of hydrous fluids.

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