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Geology and Regional Metamorphism of Some High-Grade Cordierite Gneisses, Front Range, Colorado

By
Dolores J. Gable
Dolores J. Gable
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Paul K. Sims
Paul K. Sims
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Published:
January 01, 1969

Cordierite is common in regional metamorphic gneisses of Precambrian age in the central part of the Front Range. It occurs in discontinuous stratigraphic units that are structurally a minor component, except locally, of the thick succession of biotite gneisses that comprise the widespread Idaho Springs Formation. The rocks have mineral assemblages, that are characteristic of the sillimanite grade of metamorphism.

The cordierite occurs in three principal rock types: (1) potassic feldspar-bearing cordierite-garnet-sillimanite-biotite gneiss, (2) cordierite-biotite gneiss, and (3) cordierite-gedrite-biotite gneiss; each type contains several characteristic mineral assemblages. The rock types are gradational and overlap in areal distribution, and mainly owe their diversity in mineralogy to differences in bulk chemical composition. The field relations are consistent with an interpretation that the diverse cordierite rocks were derived from original sedimentary rocks, largely pelitic sediments. The potassic feldspar-bearing cordierite-garnet gneisses were formed from shales that contained more MgO and FeO than the more abundant sedimentary facies that yielded sillimanitic biotite gneisses. Cordierite-gedrite-biotite gneisses contain much aluminum, iron, and magnesium and little sodium and potassium as compared to the other biotite gneisses; they have an extremely low content of minor elements. Although their chemical compositions are unlike those of known modern sediments, the cordierite-gedrite gneisses are considered also to have been derived from sedimentary rocks.

The physical properties and chemical compositions of the mineral phases vary somewhat from one rock type to another. Biotite varies systematically in composition, and the changes are closely related to rock type and thus to bulk composition; the MgO/FeO ratios range from 1.7 in the more mafic cordierite-gedrite rocks to 0.49 in potassic feldspar-bearing cordierite-garnet gneisses. Cordierite is magnesium-rich and intermediate in the range of composition of all analyzed cordierites (Leake, 1960); its MgO/FeO ratio is higher in the gedrite-bearing gneisses than in the potassic feldspar-bearing gneisses. The garnets consist dominantly of the almandine and pyrope molecules, and range from 64 to 75 percent almandine and from 14 to 27 pyrope. These crystals are zoned; their rims are slightly more ferrous and less magnesian than their cores. Both monoclinic and triclinic alkali feldspars coexist in the potassic feldspar-bearing cordierite-garnet gneisses. The potassic feldspars contain from 18 to 27 weight percent NaAlSi3O8. Plagioclase (oligoclase-andesine) is uncommon in the rocks. Gedrite has an MgO/FeO ratio ranging from 1 to 1.2. Associated minor minerals include iron oxides, andalusite, spinel and its alteration product högbomite, and corundum.

The mineral assemblages can be correlated imperfectly with episodes of deformation and metamorphism. Relict staurolite and associated garnet occur locally as remnants of an assemblage formed early in regional metamorphism, presumably early in the first period of deformation. The dominant assemblage biotite-cordierite-garnet-magnetite-plagioclase-potassic feldspar-quartz-sillimanite and associated assemblages having fewer phases, were formed during period one and period two deformations, the principal episodes of regional dynamothermal metamorphism in the central part of the Front Range. A minor assemblage andalusite-biotite-magnetite-plagioclase-quartz was formed later, possibly coincident with a third period of deformation, largely cataclastic in effects, which was more local than the earlier deformations and metamorphism.

Phase equilibria studies of the assemblage biotite-cordierite-garnet-magnetite-plagioclase-potassic feldspar-quartz-sillimanite and associated assemblages are interpreted to indicate that the cordierite assemblages approach a state of chemical equilibrium. The scatter of points in a distribution diagram can be interpreted in terms of at least two sets of equilibrium conditions that prevailed during the major plastic deformations. Other discrepancies indicating departure from a homogeneous equilibrium can be explained as a result of mosaic equilibrium involving limited diffusion of iron and magnesium for short distances.

The mineral assemblages and the compositions of the ferromagnesian minerals in the cordierite rocks of this region are dependent primarily on the bulk composition of the rocks and variations in the mineral species that comprise the rocks and, to a lesser degree, on the grade of metamorphism. Biotite and cordierite are markedly more magnesian in the more mafic cordierite-gedrite-biotite gneiss than in the potassic feldspar-bearing cordierite-garnet-sillimanite-biotite gneiss.

Associated microcline gneiss and biotite-sillimanite gneiss that contains muscovite as a primary stable mineral provides a means to define the metamorphic grade in the area of study. It is concluded from analyses of the assemblages with respect to theoretical phase relations in the system SiO2-Al2O3-Na2O-K2O-H2O that at least some of the rocks in the Central City-Nederland area are above the sillimanite-potassic feldspar isograd as defined by Evans and Guidotti (1966). In rocks of appropriate composition, muscovite is a stable phase in assemblages containing potassic feldspar and sillimanite.

The cordierite assemblages and associated rocks are inferred to have formed in an environment having a load pressure of 3–5 kilobars (fluid pressure equaled load pressure) and a temperature somewhat in excess of 620° C.

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GSA Special Papers

Geology and Regional Metamorphism of Some High-Grade Cordierite Gneisses, Front Range, Colorado

Dolores J. Gable
Dolores J. Gable
Search for other works by this author on:
Paul K. Sims
Paul K. Sims
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Geological Society of America
Volume
128
ISBN print:
9780813721286
Publication date:
January 01, 1969

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