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Geochemical evidence for evolving Proterozoic crustal thickness and orogenic styles in southwestern Laurentia

It has long been challenging for researchers to track the crustal thickness and mode(s) of crustal modification in ancient convergent margins, limiting evaluation of the tectonic styles and processes that modify continental crust during orogenesis. We present trace element igneous geochemical crustal thickness proxies that quantitatively track the crustal thickness evolution of the long-lived Proterozoic active margin in the southwestern U.S.A. We integrate these results with geobarometric data to constrain the mode of crustal modification. The data indicate a complex record of crustal thickness change in space and time and evolving orogenic styles. Geochemical proxies at 1.84–1.72 Ga are consistent with 20–40 km thick magmatic arcs that were locally thickened to ∼50 km during ∼1.75 Ga tectonism. During the Yavapai orogeny, 1.72–1.69 Ga, a ∼200-km-wide belt of 50-60 km thick crust extended from southern California to northern Colorado and was rapidly thinned and exhumed by ∼1.68 Ga. Crustal thickening and thinning during the Yavapai orogeny largely occurred by shortening and exhumation, respectively, in the upper 25 km of the crust. Subsequent 1.68–1.60 Ga tectonism involved crustal growth, local crustal thickening, and low-P, high-T metamorphism, consistent with extensional accretionary orogenesis. The 1.47–1.37 Ga Picuris orogeny was associated with 50–60 km thick crust across much of the Southwest and involved crustal shortening with ∼10 km of magmatic underplating. Advective heat from the emplacement of ferroan granites in the mid-crust likely contributed to elevated geothermal gradients and rheologically weakened the crust. Our results suggest evolving orogenic styles in the Southwest from 1.75–1.69 Ga short-lived crustal thickening associated with terrane accretion to 1.69–1.60 Ga largely extensional accretionary orogenesis, and regional, long-lived crustal thickening at 1.47–1.37 Ga involving extensive basaltic underplating. Contrasting with some recent hypotheses, our data document a complex middle Proterozoic record for the Southwest that was not orogenically quiescent or tectonically stagnant but involved complex mountain building styles.
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