The El Oro complex, southwestern Ecuador, is a tilted section of the metasedimentary Ecuadorian forearc, which was partially molten during Triassic time due to gabbroic magma emplacement. Pressure and maximum temperature estimates show that the metamorphic gradient during anatexis was 45 °C/km in the upper crust and 10 °C/km in the 7–8 km garnet-bearing migmatitic lower crust, controlled by biotite-breakdown melting reactions. Our petrological and geochemical studies indicate that melts produced during biotite-breakdown (5–15 vol%) were trapped and pervasively distributed in the garnet-bearing migmatite. Based on these results we carried out one-dimensional thermal modeling to characterize the heat transfer processes that led to the establishment of such a low thermal gradient during partial melting. Our results show that neither diffusive nor upward melt transfer models account for the low metamorphic gradient in the garnet-bearing migmatite. We demonstrate that in the El Oro complex, convection of the garnet-bearing migmatitic layer is the most likely heat transfer process that explains all the petrological, geochemical, and metamorphic data.

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