Water-fluxed melting of the continental crust: a review

Roberto F Weinberg, Pavlina Hasalova

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Water-fluxed melting, also known as fluid- or water-present melting, is a fundamental process in the differentiation of continents but its importance has been underestimated in the past 20. years during which research efforts focused mostly on dehydration melting reactions involving hydrate phases, in the absence of a separate aqueous phase. The presence of a free aqueous phase in anatectic terranes influences all major physical and chemical aspects of the melting process, from melt volumes, viscosity and ability to segregate from rock pores, to melt chemical and isotopic composition. A review of the literature shows that melting due to the fluxing of aqueous fluids is a widespread process that can take place in diverse tectonic environments. Active tectono-magmatic processes create conditions for the release of aqueous fluids and deformation-driven, transient high permeability channels, capable of fluxing high-temperature regions of the crust where they trigger voluminous melting. Water-fluxed melting can be either congruent in regions at the water-saturated solidus, or incongruent at suprasolidus, P-T conditions. Incongruent melting reactions can give rise to peritectic hornblende, or to nominally anhydrous minerals such as garnet, sillimanite or orthopyroxene. In this case, the presence of an aqueous phase is indicated by a mismatch between the large melt fraction generated and the much smaller fractions predicted in its absence. The relatively small volumes of aqueous fluids compared to that of rocks imply that melting reactions are generally rock buffered. Fluids tend to move upwards and down temperature. However, there are cases in which pressure gradients drive fluids up temperature, potentially fluxing suprasolidus terranes. Crustal regions at conditions equivalent to the water-saturated solidus represent a natural impediment to the up-temperature migration of aqueous fluids because they are consumed in melting reactions. In this case, continued migration into supra-solidus terranes take place through the migration of water-rich melts. Thus, melts become the transport agent of water into supra-solidus terranes and responsible for water-fluxed melting. Other processes, such as the relatively rapid fluid migration through fractures, also allow regional aqueous fluids to by-pass the water-saturated solidus fluid trap and trigger melting above solidus conditions. When aqueous fluids or hydrous melts flux rocks at supra-solidus conditions, they equilibrate with the surroundings through further melting, decreasing water activity and giving rise to undersaturated melts. It is in these conditions that hornblende or anhydrous peritectic phases are stabilized. Unlike dehydration melting, the melt fraction generated in this case is not limited by the water contained in hydrous minerals but by the volume of water added to the system. Unlike melting at the water-saturated solidus, these melts are capable of rising without freezing and do give rise to upper crustal granitic bodies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-188
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Aqueous fluids
  • Crustal anatexis
  • Granites
  • Silicate melts
  • Water activity
  • Water-fluxed melting

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