The West European Variscan chain is a remarkable illustration of how partial melting marks out the geodynamic evolution of mountain belt through time. Here, we focus on the Late Carboniferous melting events reported in the southeastern French Massif Central (Velay dome), with emphasis on the modes of partial melting, relationships between partial melting and magma emplacement, transition between the melting episodes and related P-T-t path. Following nappe stacking events under medium pressure/temperature conditions (M1 and M2 events), three melting events are identified in the southern envelope of the Velay dome.

  1. A first melting episode (M3 event) occurred within the biotite stability field at 325–315 Ma (T ≈ 720°C and P = 0.5–0.6 GPa). It led to the complete disappearance of muscovite and to the formation of migmatites consisting of biotite ± sillimanite melanosome and of granitic/tonalitic leucosomes depending on protolith composition. It is interpreted as the result of internal heating mainly linked to decay of heat producing elements accumulated in a thickened crust. It resulted in the formation of a partially molten middle crust with decoupling between the lower and upper crust, late-collisional extension and crustal thinning.

  2. The second episode of melting (M4 event) occurred at ca. 304 Ma (T 800°C and P 0.4 GPa), synchronously with emplacement of the Velay granites and growth of the dome. It led to the breakdown of biotite and growth of cordierite (locally garnet or tourmaline), with formation of diatexites and heterogeneous granites. This high-T event synchronous with crustal extension is considered to result from intrusion of hot mantle-derived and lower crustal magmas triggering catastrophic melting in the middle crust. This event ends with local retrograde hydrous melting within the stability field of biotite close to the solidus in response to local input of water during temperature drop in the late stage of emplacement of the Velay dome.

  3. The last evidence of melting in this area (M5 event) corresponds to emplacement of late granites generated under conditions estimated at ≈850°C and 0.4–0.6 GPa. They may have been generated from melting of specific lithologies triggered by injection of mafic magmas. These granites emplaced in a partly cooled crust (medium-grade conditions). The emplacement age of these granites is not well constrained (305–295 Ma) though they clearly post-date the Velay granites.

The melting episodes in the Velay area and generation of granites appear to correspond to the conjunction between (i) the effects of collision-related crust thickening and (ii) those related to slab break off and asthenospheric mantle decompression melting. The driving process is mainly the internal radiogenic heat in a first stage, relayed by the propagation of a thermal anomaly initially located in the lower crust (M3 event), but which subsequently rose to the middle and upper crustal levels through magma transfer (M4 event). Overall, the Velay example is a remarkable illustration of the progressive dehydration and sterilisation of a thickened crustal segment. It documents how large amounts of granitic magmas can be produced at shallow crustal levels in relation to the injection of mantle-derived magmas.

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