The thermal structure of collisional orogens as a response to accretion, erosion, and radiogenic heating

Audrey D. Huerta, Leigh H. Royden, Kip V. Hodges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Thermal models of collisional orogens generally predict temperature structures that are much cooler than those recovered by thermobarometric studies. Here we demonstrate that high-temperature, low-pressure metamorphism and the development of inverted geotherms within collisional belts may be the result of accretion and erosion acting on crust enriched with heat-producing elements. A new two-dimensional finite difference model, described here, incorporates the subduction of lithosphere with heat-producing material in the upper crust, accretion of crustal material from the subducting plate to the upper plate, and surface erosion of the upper plate. These processes result in the development of a wedge of heat-producing material within the upper plate. The rate of heat production within the wedge and maximum depth of the wedge are the most important parameters controlling the magnitude of upper plate temperatures. Our model yields inverted upper plate geotherms when heat production rates exceed 0.75 μW/m3 and the heat-producing wedge extends to a depth greater than 35 km. Temperatures in excess of 500°C at depths of 20-30 km are computed when heat production rates are greater than ∼1.75 μW/m3 and the wedge extends to a depth >50 km. Other processes, such as shear heating, fluid flow, or mantle delamination, need not be invoked to explain geologic evidence of high temperatures or inverted thermal gradients in collisional systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15287-15302
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 10 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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