Abstract

Many granulite terrains were too hot to have formed during continental collision. Rather, along with many high-grade metamorphic terrains that typify continental crust, most formed in accretionary orogens during tectonic switching, when prolonged lithospheric extension was interrupted by intermittent, transient contraction. Based on modern and ancient examples, tectonic switching occurs when slab retreat induces upper plate extension, causing arc splitting, formation of microcontinent slivers, and backarc basins; then intermittent arrival of buoyant oceanic plateaus induces transient flat subduction (or slab flip) and crustal thickening. During slab retreat, basaltic magmas produced from decompressed asthenosphere advect into the extending orogen, causing granulite facies metamorphism and granite generation, but subsequent thickening during flat subduction cools the region. Thickening is focused in the thermally softened backarc region and, if sediment filled, a hot, short-lived (∼10 m.y.), narrow (50– 100 km) orogenic belt forms. Such thickening is often misleadingly ascribed to arc or microcontinent collision. Once slab-retreat mode is reestablished, lithospheric extension recommences and a new arc-backarc system forms, generally outboard. Arrival of another plateau will reverse the procedure, and another short-lived, hot orogen will form within the orogenic system. Cycles of tectonic switching efficiently produce continental crust.

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