Abstract

Integration of petrologic, chronologic and petrophysical xenolith data with geophysical observations can offer fundamental insights into understanding the evolution of continental crust. We present the results of a deep crustal xenolith study from the northern Rocky Mountain region of the western U.S., where seismic experiments reveal an anomalously thick (10–30 km), high seismic velocity (compressional body wave, Vp > 7.0 km/s) lower crustal layer, herein referred to as the 7.x layer. Xenoliths exhumed by Eocene minettes from the Bearpaw Mountains of central Montana, within the Great Falls tectonic zone, include mafic and intermediate garnet granulites, mafic hornblende eclogite, and felsic granulites. Calculated pressures of 0.6–1.5 GPa are consistent with derivation from 23–54 km depths. Samples record diverse and commonly polymetamorphic pressure-temperature histories including prograde burial and episodes of decompression. Samples with barometrically determined depths consistent with residence within the seismically defined 7.x layer have calculated bulk P-wave velocities of 6.9–7.8 km/s, indicating heterogeneity in the layer. Shallower samples have markedly slower velocities consistent with seismic models. New monazite total U-Th-Pb data and a variety of additional published geochronology indicate a prolonged and episodic metamorphic history, beginning with protolith ages as old as Archean and followed by metamorphic and deep crustal fluid-flow events ca. 2.1 Ga, 1.8–1.7 Ga, and 1.5–1.3 Ga. We suggest that the 7.x layer in this region owes its character to a variety of processes, including magmatic underplating and intraplating, associated with multiple tectonic events from the Neoarchean to the Mesoproterozoic.

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