Growth and deformation of porphyroblasts in the Foothills terrane, central Sierra Nevada, California: negotiating a microstructural minefield


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    Abstract The main porphyroblastic minerals in schists and phyllites of the Foothills terrane, Western Metamorphic Belt, central Sierra Nevada, California, are cordierite and andalusite (mostly chiastolite). Less commonly, biotite, muscovite, chlorite, garnet or staurolite are also present as porphyroblasts. The variety of porphyroblast and matrix microstructures in these rocks makes them suitable for testing three modern hypotheses on growth and deformation of porphyroblasts: (1) porphyroblast growth is always syndeformational; (2) porphyroblasts nucleate only in low‐strain, largely coaxially deformed, quartz‐rich (Q) domains of a crenulation foliation and are dissolved in active high‐strain, non‐coaxially deformed, mica‐rich (M) domains, the spacing between which limits the size of the porphyroblasts; and (3) porphyroblasts generally do not rotate, with respect to geographical coordinates, during deformation, provided they do not deform internally, so that they may be used as reliable indicators of the orientation of former regional structural surfaces, even on the scale of orogenic belts. Some porphyroblast–matrix relationships in the Foothills terrane are inconsistent with hypotheses 1 and 2, and others are equivocal. For example, in many rocks it cannot be determined whether the porphyroblasts grew where the strain had already been partitioned into M and Q domains, whether the porphyroblasts caused this partitioning, or both. Although most porphyroblasts appear to be syndeformational, as predicted by hypothesis 1, observations that do not support the general application of hypotheses 1 and 2 to rocks of the Foothills terrane include: (a) lack of residual crenulations in many strain‐shadows and alternative explanations where they are present; (b) absence of porphyroblasts smaller than the distance between nearest mica‐rich domains; (c) nucleation of crenulations on existing porphyroblasts, rather than nucleation of porphyroblasts between existing crenulations; (d) presence of micaceous ‘arcs’in an undifferentiated matrix against some porphyroblasts, suggesting static growth; (e) absence of crenulations in porphyroblastic rocks showing sedimentary bedding; and (f) porphyroblasts with very small, random inclusions, which are probably pre‐deformational. Similarly, porphyroblasts that have overgrown sets of crenulations and porphyroblasts with micaceous ‘arcs’are probably post‐deformational, at least on the scale of a large thin section and probably over much larger areas, judging from mesoscopic structural evidence. Some porphyroblasts in rocks of the Foothills terrane do not appear to have rotated, with respect to geographical coordinates, during matrix deformation, in accordance with hypothesis 3, at least on the scale of a large thin section. However, other porphyroblasts evidently have rotated. In some instances, this appears to be due to mutual interference, but many apparently rotational porphyroblasts are too far apart to have interfered with each other, which indicates that the rotation was associated with deformation of the matrix. The occurrence of planar bedding surfaces adjacent to porphyroblasts about which bedding and/or foliation surfaces are folded suggests rotation of the porphyroblasts during non‐coaxial flow parallel to bedding, rather than crenulation of the matrix foliation around static porphyroblasts. It appears that porphyroblasts may rotate during deformation if the matrix is relatively homogeneous, so that the strain is effectively non‐coaxial. This may occur after homogenization of a matrix in response to the strongest degree of crenulation folding, whereas the same porphyroblasts may have been inhibited from rotating previously, when strain accumulation was partitioned in the matrix.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)203-222
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Metamorphic Geology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1993


    • andalusite
    • California
    • chiastolite
    • cordierite
    • crenulations
    • foliations
    • Foothills terrane
    • garnet
    • microstructure
    • phyllites
    • porphyroblasts
    • rotation of porphyroblasts
    • schists
    • Sierra Nevada
    • slaty cleavage


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