The contribution of vertical ductile thinning to the exhumation of high-pressure rocks is evaluated by estimating finite strain in 75 exhumed high-pressure rocks of the Cycladic blueschist unit in the Aegean Sea, Greece, and western Turkey. Strain data indicate heterogeneous deformation; principal stretches are 1.24–5.03 for SX, 0.63–2.53 for SY and 0.10–0.81 for SZ, with a tensor average of SX:SY:SZ=1.52:1.28:0.51. A 1D numerical model, which integrates velocity gradients along a vertical flow path with a steady-state orogen, is used to estimate the contribution of ductile thinning of the overburden of the high-pressure rocks to exhumation. Using a strain-rate law that is proportional to depth, averaged results show that ductile flow contributed c. 20% to exhumation. A major implication is that the vertical strain in the exhumed rocks is an overestimate of the contribution that ductile flow makes to the total exhumation. A proportional strain-rate law that scales linearly with depth implies that material points rising towards the surface move quickly out of the more rapidly deforming part of the orogen. Therefore, very large vertical strains >90% in deeply exhumed rocks are needed for vertical ductile thinning to be a major exhumation process.

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