The Iapetus suture in Ireland and Britain is that line which separates Caledonian rocks of the Laurentian and Avalonian continents. The suture is cryptic: nowhere is there an exposed fault-zone containing ophiolite remnants, blue-schist melanges, or trench deposits. Instead a suture line may be traced with varying degrees of confidence through a series of faults that traverse the Iapetus suture zone, which contains two or more tectonostratigraphic terranes.
Several data sets are utilized to constrain this trace. The distribution of faunal provinces caused by oceanic separation can be used most reliably to define early Ordovician terranes. Fauna1 intermingling in the mid-Ordovician reduces provinciality and the confidence of terrane identification using faunal data. The late Ordovician and particularly Silurian tectonostratigraphic histories of terranes either side of the suture suggest that amalgamation of the terranes, elimination of the Iapetus Ocean and development of the suture zone had begun by the Ashgill. Therefore the resolution of the suture trace becomes unreliable where Ordovician rocks do not crop out, because Silurian turbidite fans of Laurentian provenance may have dispersed across a significant width of Avalonian crust. Similarly, the precision of structural identification of the suture zone, by correlating the suture with a major fold-facing confrontation, may be weakened by late overthrusting. Tectonic interleaving of crustal flakes in the zone is supported by geophysical evidence which suggests that some major boundaries in the lower crust do not always coincide with their inferred projections in outcrop. Tectonic and sedimentary mixing of crustal blocks and sediments in the zone is further reflected by Nd and Pb isotopic patterns; the Rb-Sr patterns of granites record a stronger distinction between north and south of the suture.
Despite these difficulties, we depict a possible suture trace in Ireland that departs significantly from the traditionally placed line by following a NE-SW-aligned trace through the Slane fault and the Navan-Tipperary lineament, and thence through a dog-leg to pass north of the Dingle Peninsula.