Comparative orotomy of the Archean Superior and Phanerozoic Altaid orogenic systems

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Kusky T. M., Celâl Şengör A.

National Science Review, vol.10, no.2, 2023 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Review
  • Volume: 10 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1093/nsr/nwac235
  • Journal Name: National Science Review
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, Applied Science & Technology Source, Compendex, INSPEC, Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Keywords: Altaids, superior province, ophiolite, subduction, strike-slip
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: No


We compare and contrast the materials and mechanisms of continental crustal growth in the largest preserved regions of Phanerozoic and Archean juvenile additions to the crust, to test for similarities or differences in the formation of continents through time. We accomplish this through a comparison of map patterns, lithological contents, and structural and metamorphic evolution of the Phanerozoic Altaid orogenic system of Asia, with the Archean Superior Province of the North American Craton, using a method termed comparative orotomy. Both orogenic systems consist of collages of curvilinear belts of eroded arcs, some older continental slivers, and vast tracts of former subduction/accretionary complexes. These contain numerous shreds of portions of the ophiolite suite, slivers of island and continental arcs, and accreted oceanic plateau, all intruded by multiple magmatic suites during or between multiple deformation events, then sliced by large transcurrent fault systems and bent into large oroclinal structures. We make this comparison because the Superior Province is a typical Archean craton that was later, in the Paleoproterozoic, incorporated into the larger North American Craton, and has occupied a central position in several supercontinents (e.g. Kenorland and Nuna, which then formed the core of Columbia, Rodinia, Laurentia and Pangea) during its longevity. Since it is the largest single fragment of Archean continental cratonic lithosphere preserved on Earth, the Superior Province is widely regarded as a testing ground for how Earth's continental crust was formed. Likewise, the Altaids encompass the largest region of crustal growth for the Phanerozoic. Our comparison with the Altaids is needed, as in recent years many myths about how the planet may have responded to higher heat production and flow in the Archean have emerged, because of trends in the science where regional geology is ignored in favor of numerical models, isotopic proxies for assumed models of chemical behavior for crust-forming or tectonic processes, or comparisons with other-worldly bodies that bear little resemblance to our hydrous Earth. Thus, we return to the geological record, and here describe the map patterns, lithological associations, structural patterns and evolution of both the Altaids and Superior Province, showing how comparative tectonics, orotomy, is useful in the absence of meaningful paleomagnetic or biostratigraphic data. We pay particular attention to the style of preservation of disaggregated members of the ophiolite suite (ophirags) and their relationships with other tectonic units, and to the widespread but largely overlooked role of late-stage major transcurrent motions and structural slicing of both Archean and Phanerozoic orogenic systems in defining the present-day architecture of both orogenic systems.