Abstract

The Lithoprobe Slave – Northern Cordillera Lithospheric Evolution (SNORCLE) study across northwestern North America, in combination with related crustal studies, has been synthesized into an 1800 km long cross section of the lithosphere that is constrained by high-resolution geophysical data (seismic reflection, refraction, electromagnetic, potential fields) and detailed bedrock geology. The cross section offers one of the longest “continuous” profiles of the continental lithosphere anywhere in the world that is constrained by combined geophysical measurements and electromagnetic properties and exposed bedrock geological relationships. The primary conclusion of the study is that, during all major orogenic episodes recorded from Archean to present in that part of Earth’s lithosphere, the crust, and perhaps much of the mantle, was reorganized and redistributed rather than being differentiated from the mantle at the time of orogenesis. The observed subsurface geometries of relict subduction zones, accretion boundaries, and magmatic arcs all lead to the inference that the crust includes a dominant proportion of reworked material. A similar conclusion appears applicable for the origin of subcrustal lithosphere in the region, i.e., that much of the lithosphere, whether Archean in the Slave Province or Proterozoic in the Cordillera, is old and thus that the amount of “new” lithosphere added to the plate during orogenesis is surprisingly small. A corollary is that many accreted rocks at surface that record orogenic complexity are detached from their originally underlying lithosphere and were emplaced upon unrelated crust and mantle during deformation.

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