The role of viscous heating in Barrovian metamorphism of collisional orogens: thermomechanical models and application to the Lepontine Dome in the Central Alps



Thermal models for Barrovian metamorphism driven by doubling the thickness of the radiogenic crust typically meet difficulty in accounting for the observed peak metamorphic temperature conditions. This difficulty suggests that there is an additional component in the thermal budget of many collisional orogens. Theoretical and geological considerations suggest that viscous heating is a cumulative process that may explain the heat deficit in collision orogens. The results of 2D numerical modelling of continental collision involving subduction of the lithospheric mantle demonstrate that geologically plausible stresses and strain rates may result in orogen-scale viscous heat production of 0.1 to >1 μW m−3, which is comparable to or even exceeds bulk radiogenic heat production within the crust. Thermally induced buoyancy is responsible for crustal upwelling in large domes with metamorphic temperatures up to 200 °C higher than regional background temperatures. Heat is mostly generated within the uppermost mantle, because of large stresses in the highly viscous rocks deforming there. This thermal energy may be transferred to the overlying crust either in the form of enhanced heat flow, or through magmatism that brings heat into the crust advectively. The amplitude of orogenic heating varies with time, with both the amplitude and time-span depending strongly on the coupling between heat production, viscosity and collision strain rate. It is argued that geologically relevant figures are applicable to metamorphic domes such as the Lepontine Dome in the Central Alps. We conclude that deformation-generated viscous dissipation is an important heat source during collisional orogeny and that high metamorphic temperatures as in Barrovian type metamorphism are inherent to deforming crustal regions.