Determining the direction of contact metamorphic fluid flow: An assessment of mineralogical and stable isotope criteria

I. Cartwright, I. S. Buick

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One-dimensional fluid advection-dispersion models predict differences in the patterns of mineralogical and oxygen isotope resetting during up- and down-temperature metamorphic fluid flow that may, in theory, be used to determine the fluid flow direction with respect to the palaeotemperature gradient. Under equilibrium conditions, down-temperature fluid flow is predicted to produce sharp reaction fronts that separate rocks with isobarically divariant mineral assemblages. In contrast, up-temperature fluid flow may produce extensive zones of isobarically univariant mineral assemblages without sharp reaction fronts. However, during contact metamorphism, mineral reaction rates are probably relatively slow compared with fluid velocities and distended reaction fronts may also form during down-temperature fluid flow. In addition, uncertainties in the timing of fluid flow with respect to the thermal peak of metamorphism and the increase in the variance of mineral assemblages due to solid solutions introduce uncertainties in determining fluid flow directions. Equilibrium down-temperature flow of magmatic fluids in contact aureoles is also predicted to produce sharp δ 18 O fronts, whereas up-temperature flow of fluids derived by metamorphic devolatilization may produce gradational δ 18 O vs. distance profiles. However, if fluids are channelled, significant kinematic dispersion occurs, or isotopic equilibrium is not maintained, the patterns of isotopic resetting may be difficult to interpret. The one-dimensional models provide a framework in which to study fluid-rock interaction; however, when some of the complexities inherent in fluid flow systems are taken into account, they may not uniquely distinguish between up- and down-temperature fluid flow. It is probably not possible to determine the fluid flow direction using any single criterion and a range of data is required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-305
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Metamorphic Geology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1996


  • Contact metamorphism
  • Fluid flow
  • Marbles
  • Metamorphic reactions, stable isotopes

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