A Mélange of Subduction Temperatures: Evidence from Zr-in-Rutile Thermometry for Strengthening of the Subduction Interface

Document Type


Publication Date



The Catalina Schist contains a spectacular, km-scale amphibolite facies mélange zone, thought to be part of a Cretaceous convergent margin plate interface. In this setting, blocks ranging from centimeters up to ≥100 m in diameter are surrounded by finer-grained matrix that is derived from the blocks. Blocks throughout the mélange represent a diversity of protoliths derived from basalts, cherts and other sediments, and hydrated mantle, but all contain assemblages consistent with upper amphibolite-facies conditions, suggesting a relatively restricted range of depths and temperatures over which material within the mélange was metamorphosed. This apparent uniformity of metamorphic grade contrasts with other mélanges, such as the Franciscan Complex, where coexisting rocks with highly variable peak metamorphic grade suggest extensive mixing of materials along the subduction interface. This mixing has been ascribed to flow of material within relatively low viscosity matrix. The Zr content of rutile in samples from across the amphibolite facies mélange of the Catalina Schist was measured to determine peak metamorphic temperatures, identify whether these temperatures were different among blocks, and whether the spatial distribution of temperatures throughout the mélange was systematic or random. Resolvably different Zr contents, between 290 and 720 (±10–40) ppm, are found among the blocks, corresponding to different peak metamorphic temperatures of 650 to 730 (±2–16) °C at an assumed pressure of 1 GPa. These results are broadly consistent with previous thermobarometric estimates. No systematic distribution of temperatures was found, however. Like other mélange zones, material flow within the Catalina Schist mélange was likely chaotic, but appears to have occurred on a more restricted scale compared to some other localities. Progressive metamorphism of mélange matrix is expected to produce rheologically stiffer matrix minerals (such as amphiboles and pyroxenes) at the expense of weaker matrix minerals (sheet silicates), affecting the overall rheological behavior of the mélange, and dictating the scale of flow. The Catalina Schist amphibolite facies mélange matrix appears to provide a snapshot of hotter, stiffer portions of a subduction interface, perhaps more representative of rheological behavior at depths approaching the subarc than is found in some other exhumed mélange zones.