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Abstract

Independent researchers working in the Talladega belt, Ashland-Wedowee-Emuckfaw belt, and Opelika Complex of Alabama, as well as the Dahlonega gold belt and western Inner Piedmont of Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas, have mapped stratigraphic sequences unique to each region. Although historically considered distinct terranes of disparate origin, a synthesis of data suggests that each includes lithologic units that formed in an Ordovician back-arc basin (Wedowee-Emuckfaw-Dahlonega basin—WEDB). Rocks in these terranes include varying proportions of metamorphosed mafic and bimodal volcanic rock suites interlayered with deep-water metasedimentary rock sequences. Metavolcanic rocks yield ages that are Early–Middle Ordovician (480–460 Ma) and interlayered metasedimentary units are populated with both Grenville and Early–Middle Ordovician detrital zircons. Metamafic rocks display geochemical trends ranging from mid-oceanic-ridge basalt to arc affinity, similar to modern back-arc basalts. The collective data set limits formation of the WEDB to a suprasubduction system built on and adjacent to upper Neoproterozoic–lower Paleozoic rocks of the passive Laurentian margin at the trailing edge of Iapetus, specifically in a continental margin back-arc setting. Overwhelmingly, the geologic history of the southern Appalachians, including rocks of the WEDB described here, indicates that the Ordovician Taconic orogeny in the southern Appalachians developed in an accretionary orogenic setting instead of the traditional collisional orogenic setting attributed to subduction of the Laurentian margin beneath an exotic or peri-Laurentian arc. Well-studied Cenozoic accretionary orogens provide excellent analogs for Taconic orogenesis, and an accretionary orogenic model for the southern Appalachian Taconic orogeny can account for aspects of Ordovician tectonics not easily explained through collisional orogenesis.

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