The area covered by this work includes three of the main tectonic units of the Arabian Shield: the Afif continental terrain, the Nabitah suture with its associated mobile belt, and the Asir ensimatic arc terrain. The geology of the Zalm area is well understood, and this geochronologic and isotopic study confirms that the southern Afif terrain was a continental microplate in the late Proterozoic. The study also provides a time frame for the crustal evolution of this part of the Shield.
The Kabid formation is the oldest in the region and comprises pelitic, arkosic and felsic high-grade paragneisses. U-Pb zircon data from a pelitic garnet-sillimanite gneiss show that this part of the continental basement in the southern Afif terrain may be as old as 1770 Ma. Isotopic nalyses indicate that lead from the Kabid gneiss resided in the upper continental crust for a long period before 1770 Ma, and consequently Archaean source rocks may be present within the southern Afif terrain.
Pb and Rb-Sr isotopic data in the Zalm region reveal a change in the nature of the underlying crust, from continental basement in the northeast, to less radiogenic marginal arc rocks in the southwest. This change is coincident with both aeromagnetic data, and a facies change within a pre-collision marginal basin. Miogeosynclinal continental shelf facies of the Siham group lie unconformably over the Kabid formation, and are in the area of continental lead signatures. Eugeosynclinal deep water sediments and volcanics, in association with ultramafic rocks, occur in the area of marginal arc signatures.
U-Pb zircon age determinations show that this 'Andean' continental margin developed before about 720 Ma, and emplacement of calc-alkaline plutonic rocks continued until about 690 Ma. During the period 685-640 Ma, the continental Afif microplate collided with the Asir terrain as part of the Nabitah orogeny. At approximately 640 Ma ago, the Najd strike-slip faulting commenced with a dextral phase that controlled the emplacement of granitic plutons as well as the development of a series of large pull-apart grabens. Some of these grabens were floored by new oceanic crust and were filled with volcanosedimentary rocks of the Bani Ghayy group. Subsequently, the Najd fault system changed to sinistral strike-slip motion at about 620 Ma ago.