Himalayan leucogranites and migmatites: nature, timing and duration of anatexis

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Widespread anatexis was a regional response to the evolution of the Himalayan-Tibetan Orogen that occurred some 30 Ma after collision between Asia and India. This paper reviews the nature, timing, duration and conditions of anatexis and leucogranite formation in the Greater Himalayan Sequence (GHS), and compares them to contemporaneous granites in the Karakoram mountains. Himalayan leucogranites and associated migmatites generally share a number of features along the length of the mountain front, such as similar timing and duration of magmatism, common source rocks and clockwise P–T paths. Despite commonalities, most papers emphasize deviations from this general pattern, indicating a fine-tuned local response to the dominant evolution. There are significant differences in P–T– P-T-XH2O conditions during anatexis, and timing in relation to regional decompression. Further to that, some regions underwent a second event recording melting at low pressures. Zircon and monazite ages of anatectic rocks range between c. 25 and 15 Ma, suggesting prolonged crustal melting. Typically, a single sample may have ages covering most of this 10 Ma period, suggesting recycling of accessory phases from metamorphic rocks and early-formed magmas. Recent studies linking monazite and zircon ages with their composition, have determined the timing of prograde melting and retrograde melt crystallization, thus constraining the duration of the anatectic cycle. In some areas, this cycle becomes younger down section, towards the leading front of the Himalayas, whereas the opposite is true in other areas. The relationship between granites and movement on the South Tibetan Detachment (STD) reveals that fault motion took place at different times and over different durations requiring complex internal strain distribution along the Himalayas. The nature and fate of magmas in the GHS contrast with those in the Karakoram mountains. GHS leucogranites have a strong crustal isotopic signature and migration is controlled by low-angle foliation, leading to diffuse injection complexes concentrated below the STD. In contrast, the steep attitude of the Karakoram shear zone focused magma transfer, feeding the large Karakoram-Baltoro batholith. Anatexis in the Karakoram involved a Cretaceous calcalkaline batholith that provided leucogranites with more juvenile isotopic signatures. The impact of melting on the evolution of the Himalayas has been widely debated. Melting has been used to explain subsequent decompression, or conversely, decompression has been used to explain melting. Weakening due to melting has also been used to support channel flow models for extrusion of the GHS, or alternatively, to suggest it triggered a change in its critical taper. In view of the variable nature of anatexis and of motion on the STD, it is likely that anatexis had only a second-order effect in modulating strain distribution, with little effect on the general history of deformation. Thus, despite all kinds of local differences, strain distribution over time was such that it maintained the well-defined arc that characterizes this orogen. This was likely the result of a self-organized forward motion of the arc, controlled by the imposed convergence history and energy conservation, balancing accumulation of potential energy and dissipation, independent of the presence or absence of melt.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)821-843
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Metamorphic Geology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


  • anatexis
  • continental collision
  • leucogranite
  • migmatite
  • self-organization

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