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6.5: Metamorphic Environments

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  • As with igneous processes, metamorphic rocks form at different zones of pressure (depth) and temperature as shown on the pressure-temperature (P-T) diagram. The term facies is an objective description of a rock. In metamorphic rocks, facies are groups of minerals called mineral assemblages. The names of metamorphic facies on the pressure-temperature diagram reflect minerals and mineral assemblages that are stable at these pressures and temperatures and provide information about the metamorphic processes that have affected the rocks. This is useful when interpreting the history of metamorphic rock.

    Metamorphic facies are controlled by temperature and pressure. Low temp and pressure facies are zeolite facies. Low pressure but higher temp are greenschist then hornfels facies. Higher pressures create amphibolite and granulite facies. High pressure and temperature facies are eclogite facies.
    Figure: Pressure-temperature graph diagram showing metamorphic zones or facies.

    In the late 1800s, British geologist George Barrow mapped zones of index minerals in different metamorphic zones of an area that underwent regional metamorphism. Barrow outlined a progression of index minerals, named the Barrovian Sequence, that represents increasing metamorphic grade: chlorite (slates and phyllites) -> biotite (phyllites and schists) -> garnet (schists) -> staurolite (schists) -> kyanite (schists) -> sillimanite (schists and gneisses).

    Figure: Barrovian sequence in Scotland.

    The first of the Barrovian sequence has a mineral group that is commonly found in the metamorphic greenschist facies. Greenschist rocks form under relatively low pressure and temperatures and represent the fringes of regional metamorphism. The “green” part of the name is derived from green minerals like chlorite, serpentine, and epidote, and the “schist” part is applied due to the presence of platy minerals such as muscovite.

    Many different styles of metamorphic facies are recognized, tied to different geologic and tectonic processes. Recognizing these facies is the most direct way to interpret the metamorphic history of rock. A simplified list of major metamorphic facies is given below.

    6.4.1: Burial Metamorphism

    Burial metamorphism occurs when rocks are deeply buried, at depths of more than 2000 meters (1.24 miles) [10]. Burial metamorphism commonly occurs in sedimentary basins, where rocks are buried deeply by overlying sediments. As an extension of diagenesis, a process that occurs during lithification (Chapter 5), burial metamorphism can cause clay minerals, such as smectite, in shales to change to another clay mineral illite. Or it can cause quartz sandstone to metamorphose into the quartzite such the Big Cottonwood Formation in the Wasatch Range of Utah. This formation was deposited as ancient near-shore sands in the late Proterozoic (see Chapter 7), deeply buried and metamorphosed to quartzite, folded, and later exposed at the surface in the Wasatch Range today. Increase of temperature with depth in combination and an increase of confining pressure produces low-grade metamorphic rocks with mineral assemblages are indicative of a zeolite facies [11; 12].

    6.4.2: Contact Metamorphism

    Contact metamorphism occurs in rock exposed to high temperature and low pressure, as might happen when hot magma intrudes into or lava flows over pre-existing protolith. This combination of high temperature and low pressure produces numerous metamorphic facies. The lowest pressure conditions produce hornfels facies, while higher pressure creates greenschist, amphibolite, or granulite facies.

    As with all metamorphic rock, the parent rock texture and chemistry are major factors in determining the final outcome of the metamorphic process, including what index minerals are present. Fine-grained shale and basalt, which happen to be chemically similar, characteristically recrystallize to produce hornfels. Sandstone (silica) surrounding an igneous intrusion becomes quartzite via contact metamorphism, and limestone (carbonate) becomes marble.

    Altered rock adjacent to an igneous intrusion.
    Figure: Contact metamorphism in outcrop.

    When contact metamorphism occurs deeper in the Earth, metamorphism can be seen as rings of facies around the intrusion, resulting in aureoles. These differences in metamorphism appear as distinct bands surrounding the intrusion, as can be seen around the Alta Stock in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. The Alta Stock is a granite intrusion surrounded first by rings of the index minerals amphibole (tremolite) and olivine (forsterite), with a ring of talc (dolostone) located further away [13; 14].

    6.4.3: Regional Metamorphism

    Regional metamorphism occurs when parent rock is subjected to increased temperature and pressure over a large area and is often located in mountain ranges created by converging continental crustal plates. This is the setting for the Barrovian sequence of rock facies, with the lowest grade of metamorphism occurring on the flanks of the mountains and highest grade near the core of the mountain range, closest to the convergent boundary.

    An example of an old regional metamorphic environment is visible in the northern Appalachian Mountains while driving east from New York state through Vermont and into New Hampshire. Along this route, the degree of metamorphism gradually increases from sedimentary parent rock to low-grade metamorphic rock, then higher-grade metamorphic rock, and eventually the igneous core. The rock sequence is sedimentary rock, slate, phyllite, schist, gneiss, migmatite, and granite. In fact, New Hampshire is nicknamed the Granite State. The reverse sequence can be seen heading east, from eastern New Hampshire to the coast [15].

    6.4.4: Subduction Zone Metamorphism

    A blue rock with bands of silvery mica grains.
    Figure: Blueschist

    Subduction zone metamorphism is a type of regional metamorphism that occurs when a slab of oceanic crust is subducted under continental crust (see Chapter 2). Because rock is a good insulator, the temperature of the descending oceanic slab increases slowly relative to the more rapidly increasing pressure, creating a metamorphic environment of high pressure and low temperature. Glaucophane, which has a distinctive blue color, is an index mineral found in blueschist facies (see metamorphic facies diagram). The California Coast Range near San Francisco has blueschist-facies rocks created by subduction-zone metamorphism, which include rocks made of blueschist, greenstone, and red chert. Greenstone, which is metamorphized basalt, gets its color from the index mineral chlorite [16].

    6.4.5: Fault Metamorphism

    Layers of shears material with rotated grains.
    Figure: Mylonite

    There are a range of metamorphic rocks made along faults. Near the surface, rocks are involved in repeated brittle faulting produce a material called rock flour, which is rock ground up to the particle size of flour used for food. At lower depths, faulting create cataclastites [17], chaotically-crushed mixes of rock material with little internal texture. At depths below cataclasites, where strain becomes ductile, mylonites are formed. Mylonites are metamorphic rocks created by dynamic recrystallization through directed shear forces, generally resulting in a reduction of grain size [18]. When larger, stronger crystals (like feldspar, quartz, garnet) embedded in a metamorphic matrix are sheared into an asymmetrical eye-shaped crystal, an augen is formed [19; 20].

    Rounded mineral grains from shear forces.
    Figure: Examples of augens.

    6.4.6: Shock Metamorphism

    A small grain of sand showing a prismatic inside with lines across it.
    Figure: Shock lamellae in a quartz grain.

    Shock (also known as impact) metamorphism is metamorphism resulting from meteor or other bolide impacts, or from a similar high-pressure shock event. Shock metamorphism is the result of very high pressures (and higher, but less extreme temperatures) delivered relatively rapidly. Shock metamorphism produces planar deformation features, tektites, shatter cones, and quartz polymorphs. Shock metamorphism produces planar deformation features (shock laminae), which are narrow planes of glassy material with distinct orientations found in silicate mineral grains. Shocked quartz has planar deformation features [21].

    Shatter cones are cone-shaped features, that show lines that converge to cone shapes.
    Figure: Shatter cone.

    Shatter cones are cone-shaped pieces of rock created by dynamic branching fractures caused by impacts [22]. While not strictly a metamorphic structure, they are common around shock metamorphism. Their diameter can range from microscopic to several meters. Fine-grained rocks with shatter cones show a distinctive horsetail pattern.

    Shock metamorphism can also produce index minerals, though they are typically only found via microscopic analysis. The quartz polymorphs coesite and stishovite are indicative of impact metamorphism [21]. As discussed in chapter 3, polymorphs are minerals with the same composition but different crystal structures. Intense pressure (> 10 GPa) and moderate to high temperatures (700-1200 °C) are required to form these minerals.

    Teardrop-shaped glass that looks like obsidian.
    Figure: Tektites

    Shock metamorphism can also produce glass. Tektites are gravel-size glass grains ejected during an impact event. They resemble volcanic glass but, unlike volcanic glass, tektites contain no water or phenocrysts, and have a different bulk and isotopic chemistry. Tektites contain partially melted inclusions of shocked mineral grains [23]. Although all are melt glasses, tektites are also chemically distinct from trinitite, which is produced from thermonuclear detonations [24], and fulgurites, which are produced by lightning strikes [25]. All geologic glasses not derived from volcanoes can be called with the general term pseudotachylyte [26], a name that can also be applied to glasses created by faulting. The term pseudo in this context means ‘false’ or ‘in the appearance of’, a volcanic rock called tachylite because the material observed looks like volcanic rock, but is produced by significant shear heating.


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