Zircon U-Pb geochronology and Nd-Pb isotope geochemistry of blue ridge basement in the eastern Great Smoky Mountains, U.S.A. Implications for the proterozoic tectonic evolution of the southeastern laurentian margin

D. P. Moecher, F. C. Harris, E. A. Larkin, R. J. Quinn, K. B. Walsh, D. F. Loughry, E. D. Anderson, S. D. Samson, A. M. Satkoski, E. Tohver

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6 Scopus citations


The Mesoproterozoic to Paleozoic history of the southeastern Laurentian margin involved repeated collisional and accretionary tectonomagmatic events that reworked and recycled older continental crust of preceding events. The Great Smoky Mountains Basement Complex (GSMBC) within the southern Appalachian Blue Ridge exposes complexly deformed orthogneiss and paragneiss that preserve a record of Laurentian margin evolution from ca. 1.9 Ga to 450 Ma. The GSMBC consists primarily of: (1) 1.34 to 1.31 Ga (pre-Elzevirian) granodioritic orthogneiss and entrained mafic xenoliths that represent some of the oldest crust in Appalachian Grenville massifs (correlated with pre-Elzevirian crustal components in the Adirondack, Green Mountains, New Jersey Highlands, and French Broad massifs), (2) ca. l.15 to 1.05 Ga augen and granitic orthogneiss produced during Shawinigan and Ottawan phases of Grenville-age magmatism and metamorphism, respectively, and (3) paragneiss derived from protoliths with either Grenville-age (1.1-1.0 Ga) or post-Grenville (Neoproterozoic) depositional ages based on presence/absence of ca. 1.0 Ga metamorphic zircon and 1.9 to 1.1 Ga detrital zircon. All lithologies experienced Taconian metamorphism and variable migmatization. Pre-Ottawan paragneiss exhibits major detrital zircon ages modes at 2.0 to 1.6 and 1.4 to 1.3 Ga that require a component of older Proterozoic crust in the sediment source region. Detrital zircon grains in post-Ottawan paragneiss exhibits the full spectrum of Grenville-age modes that correlate with the five phases of Grenville magmatic/metamorphic events in eastern Laurentia. These paragneiss samples also contain scattered 750 to 600 Ma detrital zircon grains that constrain their maximum depositional age to late Neoproterozoic. The sedimentary protoliths of the latter paragneiss consist largely of detritus from exhumation of all Grenville crustal age components during post-orogenic exhumation and crustal extension leading up to Late Neoproterozoic breakup of Rodinia. Most zircon U-Pb age systematics exhibit variable discordance that can be attributed to disturbance of the U-Pb system and/or new zircon growth during either high-grade Ottawan (ca. 1.04 Ga) or Taconian (ca. 0.46 Ga) regional metamorphism and migmatization. Neodymium TDMmodel ages for granodioritic orthogneiss and paragneiss range from 1.8 to 1.6 Ga, indicating that the rocks were derived from recycling of Proterozoic crust (that is, they are not juvenile), consistent with the 1.9 to 1.6 Ga detrital zircon grains in pre-Ottawan paragneiss and with 1.8 to 1.7 Ga inherited zircon in some 1.33 Ga orthogneisses and a 1.35 Ga xenolith. Whole rock Pb isotope compositions of GSMBC rocks overlap the field of compositions characteristic of Amazonian crust and of other basement rocks from the south-central Appalachians. The Pb isotopes and geochronology in orthogneiss, mafic xenoliths, and pre-Ottawan paragneiss are consistent with a correlation of the GSMBC with the Mars Hill terrane within the French Broad massif and with the greater Grenvillian south-central Appalachian basement (SCAB) that is considered exotic to Laurentia, and transferred during Rodinian collision prior to ca. 1.2 Ga. Similarities in protolith ages and Pb isotopes point to the Paraguá terrane of Amazonia (southwestern Brazil and eastern Bolivia) as a likely match for SCAB. Initial Amazonia-Laurentia collision occurred at ca. 1.35 to 1.32 Ga with final transfer of SCAB to Laurentia occurring after 1.20 Ga within the sinistral oblique collision zone between Laurentia and Amazonia defined by previous workers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)677-729
Number of pages53
JournalAmerican Journal of Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

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© 2020 American Journal of Science. All rights reserved.


  • Amazonia-Laurentia collision
  • Appalachian tectonics
  • Grenville orogeny
  • U-Pb geochronology
  • Zircon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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