Transition in Thermal History and Recurring Burial-Exhumation Cycles along Colder Thermal Gradients at the Archaean-Proterozoic Boundary: New Insights from the Western Dharwar Craton, South India

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Research Article

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Journal of Petrology


The Hole Narsipur Greenstone Belt (HGB), in the Western Dharwar Craton, South India, preserves evidence for three cycles of metamorphism spanning the Archaean-Proterozoic transition. Changes in metamorphic style across the transition are investigated using integrated petrographic, mineral chemical, metamorphic evolutionary history, conventional geothermobarometry, and phase equilibria modeling studies of rocks of diverse bulk rock composition from the belt. These rocks record signatures of three overprinting metamorphic cycles (M2 → M3 → M4 in sequence), postdating a Mesoarchaean, M1 event in the craton. The M2 cycle represents characteristic LP-HT metamorphism along a counterclockwise (CCW) metamorphic P-T path, peak metamorphism at 4-5 kbar, 515-595°C, and high thermobaric ratios (T/P ∼1050-1525°C/GPa) at the M2 peak. The intermediate M3 metamorphic cycle records a prograde burial of partially cooled M2 rocks to middle-lower crustal depths, peak metamorphism at P ∼7.5-10.2 kbar, T ∼630-655°C, and corresponding intermediate T/P ratios (T/P ∼620-875°C/GPa) and a retrograde stage, marked by combined exhumation and cooling to P ∼5.3-6.4 kbar, T ∼530-575°C. The resultant P-T paths of evolution show variability of clockwise (CW) paths from classical hairpin type to two-stage prograde heating segments. During the M4 metamorphism (TMax ∼630-640°C at ∼8.9-10.3 kbar and with lower T/P ratios at ∼610-720°C/GPa), the partially exhumed M3 crust is re-buried to lower crustal depths along an intermediate thermal gradient as during the M3 metamorphic cycle. We interpret the thermal transition, tectonic thickening along a cooler thermal gradient, repeated burial-exhumation cycles in the orogenic wedge, and tectonic mixing of the three metamorphic cycles in terms of a three-stage tectonic evolution of the HGB. These in a sequence are (a) the development of a hot and thinned crust (cf. M2 cycle), (b) the transition to a thickened crustal zone tectonic domain (cf. M3 cycle), with both the domains being part of the lithospheric peel-back driven convergence setting and (c) finally continental collision tectonics (cf. M4 cycle). The pulsating nature of orogenesis at the Archaean-Proterozoic boundary deduced here distinguishes the Western Dharwar Craton from other cratonic blocks globally at the same time frame.



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