The detachment era (1977–1982) and its role in revolutionizing continental tectonics
Published:January 01, 2009
B. Wernicke, 2009. "The detachment era (1977–1982) and its role in revolutionizing continental tectonics", Extending a Continent: Architecture, Rheology and Heat Budget, U. Ring, B. Wernicke
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After the discovery of thrust-and-nappe structure near the turn of the twentieth century, mountain belts were viewed as a direct expression of horizontal shortening of the continental crust, and continental rifting was viewed as a phenomenon distinct from it. By mid-century, broad consensus had emerged, mainly on the basis of physical reasoning, that thrust-and-nappe structure instead reflected gravity sliding secondary to vertical motions of the crust, as embodied in the influential stockwerk folding hypothesis. In a noteworthy period from 1977 to 1982, informally referred to here as the ‘detachment era’, not only did the last vestiges of support for the stockwerk hypothesis evaporate, but large-magnitude extension was discovered throughout the Cordillera, manifest primarily by extensional detachments and metamorphic core complexes. Soon afterward extensional detachments were recognized as a global phenomenon, forcing first-order reinterpretation of field relations in most orogens. Although plate tectonics is indisputably the most profound discovery in Earth sciences in the twentieth century, the detachment era arguably had commensurate impact on field-based interpretations of continental tectonics. Three decades later, controversy persists over the origin of metamorphic tectonites in core complexes, and over the existence and mechanics of slip on shallowly dipping extensional detachments.
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Extending a Continent: Architecture, Rheology and Heat Budget
Over the last three decades, there has been a growing appreciation of the role of extensional tectonics in convergent orogens. The opening contribution to this book, by Brian Wernicke, provides a flavour of how this ‘detachment era’ has changed our views on tectonometamorphic relationships in mountain belts. This introduction provides a historical account on how our views on large-scale tectonic contacts in mountain belts have changed over the years. Wernicke concludes that controversy still persists over the existence and mechanics of slip on shallowly dipping extensional detachments, although incontrovertible field evidence indicates that slip on shallowly dipping extensional faults occurs in nature. Other papers in the volume provide a mix of new, innovative and controversial ideas that may help to solve the mechanical paradox on slip on shallowly dipping extensional detachments and quantitative case studies from New Zealand, the Aegean extensional province, the Alps and Finland.