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Early Paleozoic composite melange terrane, central Appalachian Piedmont, Virginia and Maryland; Its origin and tectonic history

January 1, 2020

Two distinct types of mélange deposits, distinguished by their matrix, occur within a collage of thrust slices in the Piedmont of the central Appalachians. They crop out in a northeast-trending belt that extends from at least central Virginia northeastward through most of Maryland. One type is a block-in-phyllite mélange that constitutes the Mine Run Complex (new name) of Virginia. It consists of a variety of metaplutonic, metavolcanic, mafic, and ultramafic blocks enclosed within a matrix of phyllite or schist and metasandstones of feldspathic or quartz metagraywacke. The Mine Run Complex is interpreted to consist of four imbricated thrust slices, each with its own distinctive exotic block content. The blocks in one of these mélange subunits (III) are almost exclusively mafic and ultramafic rocks, such as serpentinite, greenschist, metabasalt, and talc schist. The second mélange type within this Piedmont terrane, a metadiamictite, contains a less extensive variety of exotic blocks, the most common being mafic and ultramafic blocks. Such exotic blocks are enclosed in a micaceous quartzofeldspathic matrix, which has contemporaneously deposited schist and quartz-lump fragments as its characterizing features. The Sykesville Formation of Maryland and Virginia is typical of this type of mélange. Several varieties of metadiamictite that have some lithologic differences from the type locality of the Sykesville have been recognized in Virginia and are described as the Lunga Reservoir and the Purcell Branch Formations (new names).

Mélanges of the block-in-phyllite and the metadiamictite types are interpreted as having been formed in a Cambrian-Ordovician back-arc or marginal basin that lay on the continentward side of an island-arc system (central Virginia volcanic-plutonic belt and the James Run Formation of Maryland) that had formed in Cambrian time. This Cambrian-Ordovician back-arc basin is assumed to have been underlain, at least initially, by a transform-segmented spreading ridge.

The metadiamictite deposits now occur, for the most part, along the flanks and at the southeastern end of the Baltimore-Washington anticlinorium or antiform. This spatial relation is interpreted to be a consequence of thrusting of the diamictite across, as well as onto, the cover rocks and basement of the anticlinorial core terrane (“Baltimoria”) during the Taconic orogeny. The chaotic-textured diamictite formed as a sedimentary slump or slide apron or aprons somewhere to the east of “Baltimoria.” The source area for this diamictite probably was another crystalline landmass that lay east of “Baltimoria.” The matrix rocks of the block-in-phyllite mélange (Mine Run Complex) may have accumulated contemporaneously, in part with diamictite, probably by along-trough basin sedimentation. The block-in-phyllite mélanges of the Mine Run Complex occur south of the Baltimore-Washington anticlinorium metadiamictite terrane and are not associated directly with metadiamictite mélanges.

The metavolcanic and metaplutonic blocks within the eastern parts of the Mine Run Complex probably were shed from the island-arc terrane as it was thrust westward during the progressive tectonic telescoping of the back-arc basin in Cambrian and Ordovician time. The mafic and ultramafic blocks in both types of mélanges are believed to have been derived, in part, from the “oceanic” back-arc basin floor from various sources and different processes. Ultramafic protrusions, for example, may have been emplaced periodically along transform faults. Some of the mafic-ultramafic rock may have formed talus rubble along steep submarine scarps. Others may represent blocks broken and segmented by faults from what once were mafic sills emplaced within the sediments accumulating in the basin.

Title Early Paleozoic composite melange terrane, central Appalachian Piedmont, Virginia and Maryland; Its origin and tectonic history
Authors Louis Pavlides
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70206058
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse