Distribution, facies, ages, and proposed tectonic associations of regionally metamorphosed rocks in northern Alaska

Professional Paper 1497-A

Prepared in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys
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Approximately half of the exposed bedrock in northern Alaska has been regionally metamorphosed. The most widespread metamorphic episode that affected northern Alaska occurred under low-grade, initially high-pressure (blueschist-facies) conditions during Mesozoic time. This episode is thought to have been related to the obduction of one or more oceanic terranes onto the continental margin of North America. Rocks whose metamorphism is considered to have been part of this major episode have an aerial distribution of approximately 10,000 km2 in the southern Brooks Range, 5,000 km2 across much of the Seward Peninsula, and 800 km2 in the Ruby geanticline within the southeastern borderlands of the Yukon-Koyukuk basin.

In the southern Brooks Range and on the Seward Peninsula, continental rocks experienced a clockwise pressure-temperature path that evolved during Middle Jurassic to late Early Cretaceous time from the low- to high-temperature subfacies of the blueschist facies and, finally, due to decreasing pressure, evolved to the greenschist facies. Metamorphism in the southern Brooks Range was associated with north-vergent compression along a south-dipping subduction zone that emplaced the oceanic rocks of the Angayucham terrane (represented by klippen of ultramafic rocks and prehnite-pumpellyite-facies metabasite, metatuff, metachert, and metasedimentary rocks) onto the continental margin. The present structural and metamorphic relation between the continental blueschistand greenschist-facies rocks and the structurally overlying lower temperature and pressure oceanic prehnite-pumpellyite-facies rocks to the south indicates that postmetamorphic or late metamorphic down-to-the-south, low-angle extensional faulting has dismembered the upper plate and removed much of the section that originally buried the blueschists.

High-pressure metamorphism on the Seward Peninsula probably had a similar origin to that in the southern Brooks Range, but remnants of the overriding plate have not been identified, and the mechanism (such as left-lateral strike-slip faulting or oroclinal bending) by which the high-pressure rocks in the two areas were separated is not known. A significant difference between the thermal histories of these two metamorphic belts also is enigmatic: low-grade metamorphism on the Seward Peninsula was followed by intermediate-pressure amphibolite-facies and, locally, granulite-facies metamorphism as well as plutonism in mid-Cretaceous time, but no such high-temperature events have been documented within the high-pressure belt of the southern Brooks Range.

In the Ruby geanticline, glaucophane, attesting to high-pressure metamorphism, is sporadically developed both within the continental rocks of the lower plate and, less commonly, near the base of the overlying oceanic thrust sheets. The direction from which the oceanic rocks were thrust and determination of which oceanic sheets were involved is unclear.

Although the majority of the metamorphic episodes that affected northern Alaska occurred during the Mesozoic, older episodes have been documented or are suspected in a few areas. Late Proterozoic medium-grade metamorphism has been documented in a small area in the southwestern Brooks Range, Middle to Late Proterozoic or early Paleozoic metamorphism just south of the Ruby geanticline, and middle Paleozoic metamorphism in the eastern Brooks Range. High-temperature, high-pressure metamorphism of klippen in the Yukon-Tanana upland is tentatively considered to have occurred in early Paleozoic time. Metamorphic ages of units in several areas, particularly in the Ruby geanticline and the Yukon-Tanana upland, can be bracketed only between the probable Paleozoic age of their protoliths and the late Early Cretaceous age of postmetamorphic granitoids that intrude them.

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Distribution, facies, ages, and proposed tectonic associations of regionally metamorphosed rocks in northern Alaska
Series title:
Professional Paper
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Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Report: iii, p. A1-A44; 2 Plates: 54.06 x 41.26 inches and 54.53 x 35.52 inches
Larger Work Title:
Regionally metamorphosed rocks of Alaska
United States