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Abstract

Major discoveries in metamorphic petrology, as well as other geological disciplines, have been made in the Alps. The regional distribution of Late Cretaceous–Tertiary metamorphic conditions, documented in post-Hercynian metasediments across the entire Alpine belt from Corsica–Tuscany in the west to Vienna in the east, is presented in this paper. In view of the uneven distribution of information, we concentrate on type and grade of metamorphism; and we elected to distinguish between metamorphic paths where either pressure and temperature peaked simultaneously, or where the maximum temperature was reached at lower pressures, after a significant temperature increase on the decompression path.

The results show which types of process caused the main metamorphic imprint: a subduction process in the western Alps, a collision process in the central Alps, and complex metamorphic structures in the eastern Alps, owing to a complex geodynamic and metamorphic history involving the succession of the two types of process. The western Alps clearly show a relatively simple picture, with an internal (high-pressure dominated) part thrust over an external greenschist to low-grade domain, although both metamorphic domains are structurally very complex. Such a metamorphic pattern is generally produced by subduction followed by exhumation along a cool decompression path. In contrast, the central Alps document conditions typical of subduction (and partial accretion), followed by an intensely evolved collision process, often resulting in a heating event during the decompression path of the early-subducted units. Subduction-related relics and (collisional/decompressional) heating phenomena in different tectonic edifices characterize the Tertiary evolution of the Eastern Alps. The Tuscan and Corsica terrains show two different kinds of evolution, with Corsica resembling the western Alps, whereas the metamorphic history in the Tuscan domain is complex owing to the late evolution of the Apennines. This study confirms that careful analysis of the metamorphic evolution of metasediments at the scale of an entire orogen may change the geodynamic interpretation of mountain belts.

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