Journal of Earth Science  2018, Vol. 29 Issue (5): 1167-1180   PDF    
A Review of Ultrahigh Temperature Metamorphism
Hengcong Lei, Haijin Xu    
School of Earth Sciences, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan 430074, China
ABSTRACT: Ultrahigh-temperature (UHT) metamorphism represents extreme crustal metamorphism with peak metamorphic temperatures exceeding 900℃ and pressures ranging from 7 to 13 kbar with or without partial melting of crusts, which is usually identified in the granulite-facies rocks. UHT rocks are recognized in all major continents related to both extensional and compressive tectonic environments. UHT metamorphism spans different geological ages from Archean to Phanerozoic, providing information of the nature, petrofabric and thermal evolution of crusts. UHT metamorphism is traditionally identified by the presence of a diagnostic mineral assemblage with an appropriate bulk composition and oxidation state in Mg-Al-rich metapelite rocks. Unconventional geothermobarometers including Ti-in-zircon (TIZ) and Zr-in-rutile (ZIR) thermometers and phase equilibria modeling are increasingly being used to estimate UHT metamorphism. Concentrated on the issues about UHT metamorphism, this review presents the research history about UHT metamorphism, the global distribution of UHT rocks, the current methods for constraints on the UHT metamorphism, and the heat sources and tectonic settings of UHT metamorphism. Some key issues and prospects about the study of UHT metamorphism are discussed, e.g., identification of UHT metamorphism for non-supracrustal rocks, robustness of the unconventional geothermometers, tectonic affinity of UHT metamorphic rocks, and methods for the constraints of age and duration of UHT metamorphism. It is concluded that UHT metamorphism is of great importance to the understanding of thermal evolution of the lithosphere.
KEY WORDS: ultrahigh-temperature (UHT)    granulite-facies    metamorphism    review    


Ultrahigh-temperature (UHT) metamorphism is now regarded as a key frontier topic following ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) metamorphism (e.g., Tong et al., 2014; Wei, 2012; Harley, 2004). The study of UHT metamorphism has significantly enhanced our understanding of origin and evolution of supercontinents and the thermal properties of the crust in geodynamic modeling (e.g., Kelsey and Hand, 2015; Harley, 2008; Brown, 2006). In particular, HP-UHT granulite-facies metamorphism is crucial for understanding the nature and structure of the deep crust, continental interfacial interaction and subduction process, evolution and geodynamics of the orogens (e.g., Brown, 2014, 2009; Tong et al., 2014; Wei, 2012; Harley, 2008; Santosh et al., 2006; O'Brien and Rötzler, 2003; Zhai and Liu, 2001).

Dallwitz (1968) firstly reported a metamorphic pelite with a mineral assemblage of sapphirine+quartz in Enderby area, East Antarctica, unfortunately, its geological significance was not expounded clearly. Ellis (1980) identified another metamorphic pelite with the mineral assemblage of sapphirine+cordierite+ sillimanite+garnet in the same area, and estimated the peak metamorphic temperature over 1 000 ℃. This very high metamorphic temperature was not widely accepted then until Hensen and Harley (1990) systematically summarized graphical analysis of P-T-X relations in granulite-facies metapelites and named it as "Ultrahigh Temperature Metamorphism". Harley(1998a, b, c) compiled a dataset of granulite localities and demonstrated that many terranes have experienced metamorphism at temperatures over 900 ℃. Harley (1998a) officially defined that UHT metamorphism was a granulite-facies metamorphism with medium pressure (7–13 kbar) and very high temperature (900–1 100 ℃). And then, the UHT metamorphism was extensively concerned. Increasing studies have been focused on its petrogenesis and tectonic significance. Brown(2007a, b, 2006) and Stüwe (2007) defined a maximum pressure limit of approximately ≥20 ℃/km or 75 ℃/kbar, roughly corresponding to the reaction boundary between kyanite and sillimanite (Fig. 1). Many researchers suggested that UHT metamorphism is a continuum of granulite- facies metamorphism rather than a thermal anomaly (e.g., Brown, 2007a, b; Pattison et al., 2003).

Figure 1. P-T diagram illustrating conditions of selected metamorphic facies and P-T ranges of different types of metamorphism (modified after Brown, 2007a). BS. Blueschist; AEE. amphibole-epidote eclogite facies; ALE. amphibole-lawsonite eclogite facies; LE. lawsonite-eclogite facies; AE. amphibole-eclogite facies; UHPM. ultrahigh-pressure metamorphism; E-HPG. eclogite-high-pressure granulite metamorphism; G. granulite facies; UHTM. ultrahigh-temperature metamorphism; Ol-Th. olivine tholeiite; Q-Th. quartz tholeiite.

As summarized by Kelsey (2008) and Harley (2008), several diagnostic mineral assemblages have been used to identify UHT metamorphism with respect to extremely Mg-Al-rich metapelites, but there is not any diagnostic assemblage for other rocks. Some trace element thermometers had been proposed to distinguish UHT metamorphism like TIZ geothermometer (e.g., Ferry and Watson, 2007; Watson et al., 2006) and ZIR geothermometer (e.g., Ferry and Watson, 2007; Tomkins et al., 2007; Watson et al., 2006; Zack et al., 2004; Degeling, 2003). Both the TIZ and ZIR thermometers have been successfully used to estimate temperatures for some UHT granulite-facies rocks (e.g., Liu et al., 2015; Chen et al., 2013; Jiao et al., 2011; Zhang et al., 2010). However, the relative validity and robustness of these two thermometers for recording the UHT metamorphism are widely debated (e.g., Mitchell and Harley, 2017; Pape et al., 2016; Liu et al., 2015; Taylor-Jones and Powell, 2015; Ewing et al., 2013). The mineral abbreviations used in this paper are as follows: Ab. albite; Bi. biotite; Coe. coesite; Cpx. clinopyroxene; Crd. cordierite; Dia. diamond; Gr. graphite; Gt. garnet; Ilm. ilmenite; Kfs. K-feldspar; Ky. kyanite; Mi. microcline; Ol. olivine; Opx. orthopyroxene; Pl. plagioclase; Q. quartz; Ru. rutile; Sil. sillimanite; Sp. sphalerite.


UHT rocks are identified in all the major continents, and more than 60 localities showing UHT metamorphism have been reported (Fig. 2, Table S1). The age of the generation of UHT rocks ranges from Archean to Phanerozoic, but most of them are closely associated with Precambrian crustal evolution (e.g., Wei, 2012; Kelsey, 2008; Brown, 2007b; Zhai and Liu, 2001). UHT granulite-facies metamorphic rocks also widely occur in China. The Paleoproterozoic sapphirine-bearing spinel gneisses in Daqingshan and Tuguiwula khondalite belt, Inner Mongolia, North China Craton are the most typical UHT rocks (e.g., Liu et al., 2012, 2010; Santosh et al., 2012, 2007a, b; Liu and Li, 2007). Paleoproterozoic UHT granulite-facies metapelites were also reported in the Sulu orogenic belts. Lenses of Paleoproterozoic UHT granulite-facies metapelites were found in the gneisses from the Sulu UHP terrane (Lei et al., 2014; Xiang et al., 2014a). Sapphirine-bearing UHT granulites were also discovered in the Qinling Group of the Qinling-Tongbai Orogen (e.g., Xiang et al., 2014b). The Early Paleozoic HP-UHT granulites were reported in the Bahiwake area of the South Altun (e.g., Yu et al., 2011; Zhang and Meng, 2005). The Late Paleozoic UHT granulites from the Altay Orogen, northwestern China, have typical mineral assemblages of spinel-sillimanite-garnet-orthopyroxene (e.g., Li et al., 2014, 2004; Tong et al., 2014, 2013; Yang and Li, 2013; Wang et al., 2009). The Darongshan-Shiwandashan Indo-Sinian S-type granites in South China contain UHT metasedimentary granulite enclaves (e.g., Zhao et al., 2011; Peng et al., 2006). In the central Tibetan Plateau of China, the anhydrous metasedimentary and mafic xenoliths entrained in 3-Ma-old shoshonitic lavas record a thermal gradient reaching UHT condition (e.g., Hacker et al., 2000).

Figure 2. Sketch map showing the localities of the UHT metamorphism in the world (modified after Kelsey and Hand, 2015). See Table S1 for the studies conducted for each locality.

UHT metamorphism is primarily recognized on the basis of mineral assemblages found in Mg-Al-rich metapelites (e.g., Kelsey and Hand, 2015). As the first UHT mineral assemblage recognized from metapelites, sapphirine+quartz is the most unequivocal UHT assemblage (e.g., Bhadra, 2016; Tsunogae and Santosh, 2011; Kelsey, 2008). Al-orthopyroxene+sillimanite± quartz mineral assemblage is another diagnostic indicator for UHT metamorphism, which has been documented from > 65% of the known UHT localities in the world (e.g., Kelsey, 2008 and references therein). When osumilite is associated with other minerals, such as garnet, orthopyroxene+sillimanite, and sapphirine+ orthopyroxene+quartz, it can be considered as an indicator of UHT metamorphism too (e.g., Harley, 2008). Other diagnostic minerals and assemblages of UHT metamorphism are displayed in Table 1. Caution needs to be exercised when these assemblages are used as the indicators for UHT metamorphism in some situations (e.g., Kelsey and Hand, 2015 and references therein). Besides above-mentioned assemblages, there are many other assemblages which are helpful to indicate UHT metamorphism, such as orthopyroxene+corundum (e.g., Kelly and Harley, 2004; Bertrand et al., 1992; Kihle and Bucher-Nurminen, 1992), garnet+corundum (e.g., Kelsey et al., 2006; Shimpo et al., 2006; Scrimgeour et al., 2005) and so on. Some sapphirine-bearing assemblages as coronas around garnet, sillimanite or orthopyroxene are also indicative of UHT metamorphism (e.g., Sajeev et al., 2004; Harley, 1998c). Some of them are not definitive diagnosis of UHT condition. Until now, there are no typically diagnostic mineral assemblages of UHT metamorphism for non- supracrustal rocks.

Table 1 The diagnostic minerals and assemblages of UHT metamorphism

The UHT metamorphism was not widely accepted as a common type of metamorphism until the end of the last century (e.g., Kelsey, 2008). Two-pyroxene, two-oxide, and garnet- clinopyroxene thermometers were used to T-estimate by Frost and Chacko (1989), finding that these conventional thermobarometry may not be capable of routinely recovering peak metamorphic temperature from granulite terrains and that special steps must be taken to maximize the chances of obtaining these peak conditions, which is called granulite uncertainty principle.

In recent years, unconventional geothermobarometers have increasingly been applied to estimate temperatures of metamorphic rocks. The most popular thermometers are TIZ (Ti-in-zircon, e.g., Ferry and Watson, 2007; Watson et al., 2006) and ZIR (Zr- in-rutile, e.g., Ferry and Watson, 2007; Tomkins et al., 2007; Watson et al., 2006; Zack et al., 2004; Degeling, 2003). These two thermometers are based on the incorporation of Ti into zircon coexisting with rutile and quartz and Zr into rutile coexisting with zircon and quartz, respectively. In general, when the content of Ti in zircon is more than 50 ppm (e.g., Ferry and Watson, 2007; Watson et al., 2006) and/or the content of Zr in rutile exceeds 1 500 ppm (e.g., Ferry and Watson, 2007; Tomkins et al., 2007; Watson et al., 2006; Zack et al., 2004; Degeling, 2003), these two thermometers can be used to identify UHT metamorphism. TIZ thermometry has been applied to evaluate the temperatures of metamorphism for two UHT granulite localities by Baldwin et al. (2007). They obtained two phases of growth temperatures of 878–1 024 and 839–936 ℃, respectively. ZIR thermometry was applied to UHT granulites from three localities of the khondalite belt in North China Craton, yielding temperature results which are higher than 900 ℃, even surpass 1 000 ℃ (e.g., Jiao et al., 2011). And these two thermometers have been more and more successfully used to estimate the peak and post-peak temperatures of UHT rocks (e.g., Mitchell and Harley, 2017; Chen et al., 2013; Ewing et al., 2013; Meyer et al., 2011; Liu et al., 2010; Zhang et al., 2010). Furthermore, Ferry and Watson (2007) confirmed an equilibrium between TIZ and ZIR in the case of the rocks containing both zircon and rutile.

3.2 Phase Equilibria Modeling

Since the establishment and improvement of thermodynamic database (e.g., Diener and Powell, 2012; Holland and Powell, 2011, 1998; White and Powell, 2010; White et al., 2007; Wei et al., 2004; Berman, 1988), P-T pseudosection modeling has become one of the most effective means to constrain P-T conditions and P-T paths for metamorphism. Compared with conventional geothermobarometers, phase equilibria modeling, based on the stability of mineral assemblages, mineral chemistry, mineral proportion and thermodynamic data, focuses on continuous and discontinuous mineral reactions rather than only on the mineral compositions. The quantitative study of phase equilibria can not only calculate P-T projection, pseudosection, and component symbiotic diagrams (e.g., Wei and Zhou, 2003), but also quantitatively simulate the re-melting, changing in the composition of the melt and the effect of melt behavior on mineral composition during the metamorphism (e.g., Wei et al., 2017).

The success of phase equilibria modeling has led to some complacency that UHT metamorphism is now fully quantified in terms of P-T and mineral assemblages in metapelites (Fig. 3) (e.g., Wei, 2016; Wei and Zhu, 2016; Lei et al., 2014; Xiang et al., 2014a; White and Powell, 2010; White et al., 2001). However, the former a–x models used in the pseudosection calculations of clinopyroxene and amphibole are based on phase equilibrium calculations of eclogite-facies and amphibolite-facies (e.g., Wei et al., 2017; Diener et al., 2007; Green et al., 2007). Since Ti end-members in amphibole and (Mg, Fe)2Si2O6 components in clinopyroxene are not included, a–x models are not suitable for the phase equilibrium calculations of granulite- facies. In addition, the former melts models are intended to calculate equilibria of metapelites but not appropriate for mafic metamorphic rocks. Until Green et al. (2016) presented a set of thermodynamic models consisting of new activity-composition relations, the calculation of partial melting equilibria for metabasic rocks has not been allowed. Calibration of the new activity-composition relations was carried out aiming to reproduce major experimental phase-in/phase-out boundaries that define the amphibolite-granulite transition, across a range of bulk compositions, at ≤13 kbar.

Figure 3. P-T pseudosection (a) and the compositional isopleths of the garnet (b) for the UHT granulite of Sulu orogenic belt (e.g., Lei et al., 2014). The red and black dashes lines represent isopleths of Mg# and XCa for garnet respectively. Mg#=Mg/(Fe+Mg) and XCa=Ca/(Fe+Mg+Ca+Mn).

UHT metamorphism suggests that the crust has achieved an anormal geothermal gradient with approximately 20 ℃/km or 75 ℃/kbar (e.g., Brown, 2007a, b, 2006; Stüwe, 2007). The achievement of the temperature for UHT metamorphism is very difficult without a large amount of heat generation (e.g., Nabelek et al., 2010; Nabelek and Liu, 2004; Thompson and Connolly, 1995; Royden, 1993). Heating sources for UHT metamorphism are probably from radiogenic heat, strain heat, heat of magma and/or mantle.

The radiogenic heat generated from elements U, Th, and K within the lithosphere plays an important role in the distribution of crustal temperature (e.g., Sandiford and McLaren, 2006). The radiogenic heat can produce noticeable temperature up to 300 ℃ and 25 mWm-2 (e.g., Vilà et al., 2010). Clark et al. (2011) suggesed that radiogenic heat is closely related to UHT metamorphism, at least to a certain extent, and can provide a certain heat source to UHT metamorphism. Ferrero et al. (2017) suggested that radiogenic heat may be one of the reasons for the UHT metamorphism of felsic granulites from northeastern Connecticut of US.

Strain heating in ductile shear zone dominantly depends on the stresses imposed on the lithosphere and the rate of heat transfer from the deforming region (e.g., Nabelek et al., 2010). With the increase of temperature, the decrease of thermal diffusivity helps the heating of the deformed region to reach higher temperatures (e.g., Whittington et al., 2009). When a shear zone is infertile or has lost all melt and became anhydrous, the deformation may potentially lead to granulite and UHT metamorphism in the proximity of the shear zone, in which the maximal temperature reaches ~940–1 040 ℃ (e.g., Nabelek et al., 2010). Infiltration metasomatism under granulite-facies conditions of 870–924 ℃ and 10.1–10.2 kbar exists in shear zones of the Lapland granulite belt (e.g., Lebedeva et al., 2010; Bushmin et al., 2007).

High-heat flow from magmas could induce contact UHT metamorphism of the wall-rocks, which is an important heat source for UHT metamorphism. They include high-temperature intrusions such as anorthosite (e.g., McFarlane et al., 2003), charnockite (e.g., Barbosa et al., 2006), or gabbronorite (e.g., Guo et al., 2012; Arima and Gower, 1991). Based on Al solubility in orthopyroxene, thermometry can record a temperature gradient ranging from 700 to 900 ℃ at distances between 5 750 and 20 m from the intrusion of the Makhavinekh Lake pluton (e.g., McFarlane et al., 2003). Samples of aluminous- magnesian granulites collected close to the Brejões Dome record the temperatures of 900–1 000 ℃ (e.g., Barbosa et al., 2006). Barbosa et al. (2006) suggested that the intrusion of the Brejões charnockite diaper was responsible for a local increase in temperature above the peak temperature of regional granulite metamorphism. Meanwhile, the temperature of peak UHT metamorphism in Daqingshan sapphirine granulites is in the range of 910–980 ℃, and is ascribed to contact metamorphism induced by gabbronorite intrusions (e.g., Guo et al., 2012).

The additional thermal energy derived from the mantle can also generate high-heat flow which can promote UHT metamorphism. This is one of the most important heat sources which result in UHT metamorphism. In some cases, coeval mantle magmatism is directly linked to granulite formation (e.g., Maidment et al., 2013; Kemp et al., 2007; Yoshino and Okudaira, 2004). If thickening is extreme, the high-heat flow transfers through delamination of the sub-crustal lithosphere or perhaps from crustal self-heating (e.g., McKenzie and Priestley, 2008). Within the continental lithosphere, many processes including UHT metamorphism may be driven by the transfer of the high-heat flow from the mantle (e.g., Brown, 2006). UHT metamorphism generated by the heat flow in the mantle appears in many locations like South Altay belt of NW China (e.g., Yang and Wei, 2017; Yang et al., 2014; Wan et al., 2013; Peng et al., 2010), Palghat Cauvery tectonic zone of India (e.g., Tsunogae and Santosh, 2011), Kerala khondalite belt of India (e.g., Gou et al., 2015; Pattison et al., 2003), and In Ouzzal of Algeria (e.g., Adjerid et al., 2013).

4.2 Tectonic Settings of UHT Metamorphism 4.2.1 Continental collisional orogenic system

The occurrence of UHT metamorphism throughout Earth history is closely associated with the generation of supercontinent (e.g., Brown, 2007a, b, 2006). In many cases, the extreme UHT crustal metamorphism is distributed in the collisional environments (e.g., Santosh and Sajeev, 2006; Tsunogae and Santosh, 2006). Here are the possible circumstances.

(1) Post-collisional slab break-off and delamination (Fig. 4a); in this case, the addition thermal energy may derive from the asthenospheric mantle, so the lower part of overlying crust experiences UHT metamorphism (e.g., Harley, 2008). In the Korean Peninsula, the southwestern Odaesan gneiss complex underwent UHT metamorphism (902–950 ℃, 8.8–9.4 kbar) due to the heat supplied by the uplifted asthenospheric mantle through the opening formed by the slab break-off during the initial post-collision stage (e.g., Lee et al., 2016). (2) The isothermal exhumation in the final stage of a continental collisional orogenic belt (e.g., Tsunogae et al., 2008) (Fig. 4b); Tsunogae et al. (2008) supposed that UHT metamorphism (880–1 040 ℃, 9.8–12.5 kbar) of the Komateri northern Madurai Block of southern India has a close correlation with the continent-continent collision during the final stage of amalgamation of Gondwana supercontinent. (3) Magmatic underplating in a thickened crust that the orogen underwent a post extension with an anticlockwise P-T path (e.g., Sajeev and Osanai, 2004; Harley, 1989) (Fig. 4c); UHT metamorphism (1 150 ℃, 12 kbar) of Mg-Al-rich granulites from the Central Highland complex of Sri Lanka is a typical case (e.g., Sajeev et al., 2004). (4) Continental lower crustal delamination and extensional collapse of orogen (e.g., Santosh and Omori, 2008a) (Fig. 4d); the extreme temperatures suggest a convective thinning or detachment of the lithospheric thermal boundary layer during or after crustal thickening (e.g., Santosh and Sajeev, 2006). The peak P-T conditions of 930–980 ℃ and 8.5–9.0 kbar (e.g., Adjerid et al., 2013) suggest a delamination of the lithospheric mantle underneath the In Ouzzal crust.

Figure 4. Schematic diagrams deciphering continental collisional orogen related possible sites of UHT.

In addition, self-heating of the orogen such as viscous dissipation or mechanical heating is another heat source in the collision-style tectonic systems (e.g., Kelsey, 2008), which can quickly and efficiently provide heat transfer between the lithosphere and overlying crust (e.g., Kincaid and Silver, 1996). In the continental collisional orogenic system, an in-situ heat source from deformed lithospheric mantle provides immediate feedback to metamorphic temperatures in the overlying crust (e.g., Burg and Gerya, 2005; Stüwe, 1998). Viscous heating has potential influence on both temperature distribution and large-scale structural patterns within the deformed crust, notably the exhumation of lower crustal rocks would speed up (e.g., Burg and Gerya, 2005). Moreover, the lower crust has a lower thermal diffusivity than one which has been previously employed to geodynamic models (e.g., Whittington et al., 2009), which implies that the lower crust can retain heat for a longer time and the underlying mantle has a higher mean temperature (e.g., Santosh et al., 2012). Thus, UHT metamorphism may be a function of the inherent properties and characteristics of the continental collisional orogenic crust.

4.2.2 Accretionary orogenic system

A hot part involved in HT-UHT metamorphism can form within the accretionary orogen during tectonic switching in prolonged lithospheric extension interrupted by intermittent and transient contraction (e.g., Collins, 2002a, b). The following conditions provide favorable environments for UHT metamorphism (Fig. 5). (1) Asthenosphere upwelling as the deep subduction oceanic slab stagnancy, rollback and break-off (e.g., Collins, 2002a, b); extension and slab rollback lead to the UHT metamorphism at 1 000 ℃ and 7–8 kbar (e.g., Gorczyk et al., 2016). (2) Input of mantle material into upper crust since the mantle delamination is caused by the crust thickened (e.g., Guo et al., 2012; Collins, 2002a, b); granulite-facies metapelitic rocks from the Archean Pikwitonei granulite domain record P-T conditions at ~910 ℃ and 9 kbar in this stage (e.g., Kooijman et al., 2012). (3) The emplacement of magmas in the roots of arcs and subsequent granulite-facies metamorphism (e.g., Santosh et al., 2012; Jagoutz et al., 2007). (4) A back-arc basin of an active accretionary- extensional margin or orogen (e.g., Santosh et al., 2012; Brown, 2009, 2007a, b, 2006; Harley, 2008, 1989; Collins, 2002a, b); it may be one of the commonly invoked settings for the UHTmetamorphism, on the basis of the observation that many backarc basins are recognized to be regions of thin, weak crust and high heat flow (e.g., Hyndman et al., 2005). UHT metamorphism in the Schirmacher Hills of East Antarctic is such an example (e.g., Baba et al., 2010, 2006).

Figure 5. Cartoon cross-section depicting subduction related possible sites of UHT metamorphism in the accretionary orogenic system (modified after Santosh and Omori, 2008a).

In addition, ridge subduction and slab window are candidates for UHT metamorphism (Fig. 6) (e.g., Santosh et al., 2012; Santosh and Kusky, 2010; Bradley et al., 2003). During the evolution of ocean basins, spreading ridges usually interact with the convergent margin, causing the ridge to be subducted beneath the convergent margin in the subduction zone (e.g., Bradley et al., 2003). The upwelling mantle material that fills the slab window would normally trigger partial melting, and once the slab window opens beneath the convergent margin, a switch over occurs with increasing depth (e.g., Santosh and Kusky, 2010). In shallow levels of the accretionary prism, melt still rises, mixes with, and partially melts the accretionary wedge material, forming hybrid magmas (e.g., Kusky and Li, 2003), together with a medium- ultrahigh temperature near-trench metamorphism (e.g., Sisson et al., 2003). UHT mafic granulites in the East Hebei of North China Craton possibly formed under this tectonic setting (e.g., Yang and Wei, 2017).

Figure 6. Ridge subduction and slab window model about UHT metamorphism (modified after Santosh and Kusky, 2010).
4.2.3 Post-collisional extension, intracontinental rifting and mantle plume

The extensional tectonics are usually associated with the UHT metamorphism, such as post-collisional extension, intra- continental rifting and mantle plume. In these extensional environments, high-temperature intrusions generate an extreme temperature for UHT metamorphism (Fig. 7). The Gondwana suture in southern India and the Inner Mongolia suture zone in the North China Craton, are associated with post-collisional extension of the paleo-subduction zones (e.g., Santosh et al., 2012). In the African rift valley, the heat and volatiles supplied by rising plumes might contribute to the generation of dry ultrahigh- temperature assemblages in the lower crust (e.g., Santosh and Omori, 2008b). Such UHT metamorphism also occurs in the Altai orogenic belt, China. (e.g., Tong et al., 2014, 2013).

Figure 7. Cartoon sketch illustrating UHT metamorphism in the case of intracontinental rifting and mantle plume (modified after Santosh and Omori, 2008b). When rising plume hits the subcontinental mantle, then small amounts of melts from plume and heat recrystallize the lower crust to yield UHT rocks.
5 KEY SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS ON UHT METAMOR- PHISM 5.1 Identification of UHT Metamorphism in the Non- Supracrustal Rocks

The diagnostic mineral assemblages of UHT metamorphism are sapphirine+quartz, Al-orthopyroxene+sillimanite±quartz, spinel+quartz and so forth. All of them occur in high-Mg-Al supracrustal rocks. However, there are no typically diagnostic assemblages or methods which can be applied to identify UHT metamorphism in other types of rocks like metabasite. The determination of UHT conditions for the non-supracrustal rocks is still difficult due to the absence of an appropriate activity- composition model. Green et al. (2016) presented a set of thermodynamic models including new activity-composition model which can be employed for mafic melts, however, it takes time to get good grades. Although Harley (2008) suggested that pigeonite can exist in the mafic UHT rocks, whether it can only be stabilized under UHT condition is still relatively uncertain (e.g., Wei et al., 2017). Fortunately, a successful application of Ti-in- zircon thermometer to UHT metamorphism in the Anápolis- Itauçu complex has been reported by Baldwin et al. (2007). Increasing works use TIZ and ZIR to constrain UHT granulite- facies metamorphism for the non-supracrustal rocks (e.g., Jiao et al., 2011; Liu et al., 2010). Thus, the unconventional geothermo- barometers might be a viable approach to identify UHT metamorphism for the non-supracrustal rocks.

5.2 Applications of TIZ and ZIR in UHT Metamorphism

TIZ and ZIR as unconventional geothermobarometers are effective methods on the recognition of UHT metamorphism. The results of these two tools should be coupled in theory when there is a balance between zircon and rutile (e.g., Ferry and Watson, 2007). However, the results of TIZ and ZIR usually show a decoupled feature when they are employed for the natural samples, especially for the estimation of P-T conditions of UHT metamorphism (e.g., Mitchell and Harley, 2017; Pape et al., 2016; Liu et al., 2015; Taylor-Jones and Powell, 2015; Ewing et al., 2013). Ewing et al. (2013) investigated the behavior of the ZIR and TIZ thermometers in granulite-facies metapelites from the Ivrea-Verbano zone lower crustal section. They found that the temperatures recorded by rutiles are higher than those recorded by zircons for 100–200 ℃, suggesting that ZIR thermometer can robustly record peak temperatures in the high-grade metamorphic terranes. On the contrary, Harley (2016) found that the temperatures recorded by zircons are higher than those recorded by rutiles for 140–200 ℃ in the UHT Napier complex. To evaluate the usefulness and reliability of ZIR geothermometer in the granulite-facies rocks, Pape et al. (2016) investigated the rutile in UHT rocks and suggested that different Zr concentrations in rutile crystals from the same sample provide a record of prograde metamorphic reactions and distinct equilibration textures. This work forcefully suggests that Zr contents in rutile can be affected by the retrograde adjustment (Pape et al., 2016). Furthermore, Mitchell and Harley (2017) presented an integrated petrological approach to testify ZIR thermometry which focused on high-pressure rutile bearing UHT granulites from Napier complex, considering that the ZIR thermometer may be not as reliable as it was thought before. As effective ways to study UHT metamorphism, it is urgent to understand their limitations, results and range of applications. Besides, the decoupled circumstances of these two thermometers and the reasons why the decouple is caused should be settled urgently.

5.3 Tectonic Affinity of UHT Metamorphic Rocks

Characterized by elevated thermal gradients, as the main source on which the gradients are established, UHT metamorphism is closely associated with deep crustal structure and geodynamical features of the orogenic belt (e.g., Kelsey and Hand, 2015; Brown, 2007b). Brown(2007a, b) put forward that there are mainly two types of orogenic system, namely accretionary and collisional orogenic system respectively. Numerous tectonic models proposed for HT granulite generation are based on the two orogenic systems (e.g., Gorczyk et al., 2016; Sizova et al., 2014; Jamieson and Beaumont, 2013; Wan et al., 2013; Stüwe, 2007). All of them are related to the major Earth recycling and crust-generation process of subduction, showing an apparent temporal relationship to supercontinent assembly (e.g., Kelsey and Hand, 2015). However, the tectonic affinity of those UHT metamorphic rocks is still poorly understood. Especially in the collisional orogenic belt, the overlying and subduction slabs respectively experience different metamorphism with different geological significance. The identification of the slab from which the UHT rocks derive is significant in the study of the thermal structure and evolution of the deep crust of the orogen, which can provide essential information for the study of geodynamics.

5.4 Ages and Duration of UHT Metamorphism

The ages and duration over which the UHT metamorphism occurs have not been well constrained for a long time (e.g., Baldwin and Brown, 2008). But it is necessary that they should be acquired to integrate metamorphic data such as P-T paths into tectonic setting of metamorphism. The petrological framework and P-T evolution have been adequately determined in many UHT terranes which can be linked to P-T point and P-T path segment information (e.g., Kelsey and Hand, 2015; Bhowmik et al., 2014). Zircon and monazite are the most commonly used chronometers for dating geologic processes as well as UHT metamorphism (e.g., Rubatto and Hermann, 2007; Rubatto, 2002; Rubatto et al., 2001; Rubatto and Gebauer, 2000). Some information about the timescale of metamorphism at the scale of the orogeny can be provided by them, such as the duration of the heat source baking orogenic belt and the duration of metamorphism recorded by a specific hand specimen- sized rock sample (e.g., Mitchell and Harley, 2017; Harley, 2016; Ewing et al., 2013; Rubatto et al., 2001). Indeed, TIZ and ZIR thermometers combined with zircon in situ dating and trace element thermometry offer an effective way to the study of the age and duration of UHT metamorphism, which are of great scientific significance to understand the nature, mechanism and tectonic setting of UHT metamorphism and even geodynamics of the orogenic belt.


UHT metamorphism has been a focus of frontier study of metamorphic geology. Many advances have been made in the past decades. The available results from the petrological and geochemical studies of UHT metamorphic terranes indicate that: (1) UHT metamorphism is accepted as a relatively common regional metamorphism; (2) more and more diagnostic mineral assemblages can be used to identify UHT metamorphism; (3) trace element thermometry has become new approach to recognize UHT metamorphism for non-supracrustal rocks; (4) the P-T path and mineral assemblage evolution of UHT metamorphism can be fully quantified based on phase equilibria modeling. UHT metamorphism can reveal the geodynamics in deep crust although there are still some important issues which have not been solved. To shed an insight on the nature, identification and genesis of UHT metamorphism, further studies need to address the following aspects: (1) the identification of UHT metamorphism for the non-supracrustal rocks; (2) robustness of the trace element geothermometers; (3) tectonic affinity of UHT metamorphic rocks; (4) nature and genesis of UHT metamorphism.


This paper is dedicated to Prof. Zhendong You for his 90th birthday. This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 41772054, 41572039 and 41372076) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) (No. CUGQYZX1704). We thank Prof. Jingbo Liu and other two anonymous reviewers for offering constructive comments, which have helped us to improve the manuscript greatly. The final publication is available at Springer via

Electronic Supplementary Materials: Supplementary material (Table S1) is available in the online version of this article at

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