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The nature of petrologic and structural properties and processes that characterize the middle and lower continental crust is a long-standing problem in the earth sciences. During the past several decades significant progress has been made on this fundamental problem by synthesizing deep-crustal seismic-reflection imaging, laboratory-based seismic-velocity determinations, xenolith studies, and detailed geologic studies of exposed crustal cross sections. Geological, geochemical, and geophysical studies of crustal sections provide a crustal-scale context for a variety of important problems in the earth sciences. Crustal sections are widely used to evaluate crustal composition and petrogenesis, including lateral and vertical variations in rock types. Evidence from deep levels of crustal sections suggests seismic shear-wave anisotropy and seismic lamination result from widespread subhorizontal contacts, shear zones, and transposition fabrics, and in some sections from metamorphosed m- to km-thick, intraplated and/or underplated mafic magmatic sheets and plutons. Crustal sections also facilitate the evaluation of crustal rheology in natural settings from regional to outcrop scale. Magmatism, metamorphism, partial melting, and relatively small lithological differences control rheology, localize strain, and lead to markedly heterogeneous deformation over a wide range of crustal levels. Finally, crustal sections provide unique views of the architecture and deformation patterns of fault zones in the deep crust.

As a guide to the growth and evolution of continental crust in the past 0.5 Ga, we summarize the salient features of some examples of crustal cross sections from Phanerozoic orogens. These crustal sections represent different tectonic settings, although the variation in magmatic arcs from intra-oceanic to continental-margin settings is a major theme in our synthesis. Another theme is the importance of attenuated crustal sections in reconstructing the hinterland of orogens that have experienced large-magnitude crustal extension after an earlier history of crustal contraction. The Phanerozoic crustal cross sections summarized in this chapter developed during a polyphase deformational and magmatic history that spanned 10–100s of Ma and resulted in overprinting of different events. Consequently, we conclude that there is no “typical” Phanerozoic continental crustal section, and the overall crustal composition varies markedly between sections. The thickness of lower crust that existed below an exposed crustal section is difficult to quantify. Only a few sections are in contact (typically faulted) with mantle rocks, and although xenoliths can provide important information about the unexposed parts of the deep crust and upper mantle, they are absent for most sections. The exhumation of relatively intact crustal cross sections and lower-crustal rocks probably requires an unusual sequence of tectonic events, and almost all of the sections evaluated in this chapter were exhumed by multiple mechanisms. Major exhumation is most commonly attributed to normal faults and extensional shear zones.

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