Lu-Hf Garnet Geochronology Reveals the Tectonic History of Precambrian Rocks in the Southern Rocky Mountains
Abstract:Lu-Hf garnet dating of Proterozoic rocks of the southwestern United States provides constraints on the timing and geographic extent of metamorphism associated with the Yavapai, Mazatzal, and newly recognized Picuris orogenies. Prior work focusing on U-Pb dating of plutons and Ar geochronology has left the timing of prograde metamorphism ambiguous, particularly in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Because the Lu-Hf system dates the onset of garnet growth, it can constrain the timing of the prograde P-T path.
Garnet schist samples from central and northern New Mexico exhibit garnet growth restricted to the time period between ~1460 and 1400 Ma. In the Picuris and Manzano mountains, the oldest Lu-Hf garnet ages predate the U-Pb ages of ~1.4 Ga plutons located near the dated samples. This implies that garnet growth, and therefore the onset of amphibolite facies metamorphism, cannot be driven by contact metamorphism, as has been previously inferred.
Garnet-bearing samples from the Needle and Wet Mountains in southern Colorado display a range of garnet ages between ~1750 and 1470 Ma. A garnet gneiss from the Needle Mountains in southwestern Colorado yields an age of 1748 Ma, which is consistent with the Yavapai orogeny. This Lu-Hf garnet age has not been reset by contact metamorphism associated with the emplacement of the ~1.4 Ga Eolus batholith. Anatectic garnet in an orthogneiss from the northern Wet Mountains yields an age of 1601 Ma and is interpreted to date partial melting at the close of the Mazatzal orogeny. A 1476 Ma garnet age from the aureole of the 1440 Ma Oak Creek pluton is interpreted to date upper amphibolite facies metamorphism.
The age distribution of these samples shows that rocks in Colorado underwent a complex, poly-metamorphic history, while rocks in New Mexico underwent a single progressive metamorphic event. This contrast implies that the boundary between rocks deformed and metamorphosed during the ~1800-1600 Ma Yavapai and Mazatzal orogenies and those only deformed and metamorphosed during the ~1460-1400 Ma Picuris orogeny lies in northern New Mexico, along what has previously been considered the Mazatzal front. By using Lu-Hf geochronology to directly date a rock-forming mineral, we are better able to reconstruct the tectonic history of this region.