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Abstract

In orogenic belts high pressure–low temperature (HP–LT) metamorphism can widely affect units derived from both the oceanic and the continental lithosphere. In order to verify whether high P/T (pressure/temperature) ratios recorded in the continental lithosphere can result from tectonic erosion, ablative subduction and recycling in the mantle wedge, we implemented a 2D numerical model to simulate oceanic subduction beneath a continent. Particular attention is paid to the role played by mantle hydration within the continental crust recycled in the wedge region. A comparison between hydrated and non-hydrated models highlights that hydration is fundamental in allowing the recycling of crustal material at shallow depths (≤150 km for a convergence rate of 1 cm year−1), making the uprising and exhumation of buried crustal material during active subduction possible. The recycled crustal material can originate from any crustal level. The Tmax and Pmax distributions within the final marker configuration show that crustal recycling induces the coupling of volumes that reached different depths during their paths in the corner flow. To verify the reliability of this model we compare predictions with natural geological data from the Austroalpine Sesia–Lanzo Zone (SLZ), the largest eclogite-facies crustal fragment of early Alpine age and whose Alpine tectonic evolution has been interpreted as compatible with a cycle of burial at depth and exhumation during active subduction of the oceanic lithosphere. The relationships between natural PT estimates and predicted PT values show that the simulated geodynamic scenario generates a thermal regime coherent with that affecting the subducted continental crust of the SLZ, which may have been stable for a long time during Alpine subduction, allowing the SLZ rocks to accomplish their burial and exhumation path under an active subduction regime.

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