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Recent advances in geochemical studies of igneous rocks, isotopic age data for magmatism and metamorphism, quantitative pressure-temperature (P-T) estimates of metamorphic evolution, and structural geology in the northwestern Iberian Massif are integrated into a synthesis of the tectonic evolution that places the autochthonous and allochthonous terranes in the framework of Paleozoic plate tectonics. Because northwestern Iberia is free from strike-slip faults of continental scale, it is retrodeformable and preserves valuable information about the orthogonal component of convergence of Gondwana with Laurentia and/or Baltica, and the opening and closure of the Rheic Ocean.

The evolution deduced for northwest Iberia is extended to the rest of the Variscan belt in an attempt to develop a three-dimensional interpretation that assigns great importance to the transcurrent components of convergence. Dominant Carboniferous dextral transpression following large Devonian and Early Carboniferous thrusting and recumbent folding is invoked to explain the complexity of the belt without requiring a large number of peri-Gondwanan terranes, and its ophiolites and high-pressure allochthonous units are related to a single oceanic closure.

Palinspastic reconstruction of the Variscan massifs and zones cannot be achieved without restoration of terrane transport along the colliding plate margins. A schematic reconstruction is proposed that involves postcollisional strike-slip displacement of ∼3000 km between Laurussia and Gondwana during the Carboniferous.

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