The subduction and exhumation history of the Voltri Ophiolite, Italy: Evaluating exhumation mechanisms for high-pressure metamorphic massifs

Paul G. Starr, Kirkland S. Broadwell, Besim Dragovic, Marco Scambelluri, Anne A. Haws, Mark J. Caddick, Andrew J. Smye, Ethan F. Baxter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The problem of how dense high- (HP) and ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) metamorphosed oceanic mafic and ultramafic rocks are exhumed from deep within subduction zones is crucial to understanding processes occurring at the interface between the subducting slab and the overlying plate and mantle wedge. In this study, we use the P-T-t evolution of metamorphosed Fe–Ti gabbros hosted in meta-serpentinite from the Voltri Ophiolite (Ligurian Alps, Italy) to evaluate potential exhumation mechanisms and assess whether HP mafic rocks were exhumed as blocks within a complex serpentinite-hosted mélange or as coherent sections of oceanic lithosphere. A number of observations provide evidence for subduction and exhumation of the central portion of Voltri Ophiolite as a coherent package of ultramafic and mafic material: (1) a similar evolution in mineral assemblages, textures and compositions suggesting peak metamorphism in the eclogite-facies, followed by a retrograde evolution through blueschist-, amphibolite- and greenschist-facies conditions; (2) uniform P-T conditions of both initial garnet growth (~475–480 °C and 2.0–2.2 GPa) and peak metamorphism (~500–525 °C and 2.3–2.5 GPa); and (3) bulk Sm–Nd garnet ages that reveal a very tight grouping of ages for four well-equilibrated foliated Fe–Ti meta-gabbros clustering at 39.98 ± 0.84 Ma. A massive undeformed gabbro also from the central Voltri area gave a slightly younger age of 38.15 ± 0.89 Ma, which is interpreted to reflect kinetic overstepping and delayed growth of garnet. By contrast, an Sm–Nd garnet age from the NW portion of the Voltri Ophiolite indicates peak eclogite-facies metamorphism occurring ~10–12 Ma earlier at 49.68 ± 0.35 Ma. A compilation of the current geochronological data suggests that the NW portion of the Voltri Ophiolite underwent peak eclogite-facies metamorphism first at ~50 Ma, the sedimentary portion of the Voltri Unit (the Voltri-Rossiglione meta-sediments) experienced peak metamorphism around ~47–44 Ma, whilst subduction and peak metamorphism of the central part of the ophiolite occurred later at 41–38 Ma. Alongside recent studies of other Alpine ophiolites (Zermatt Saas, Monviso, Alpine Corsica), this study suggests that detachment and buoyant exhumation of large kilometric-scale coherent sections of slab material, rather than exhumation within a chaotic serpentinite mélange, is the dominant mechanism of preserving and returning eclogite-facies metamorphic rocks to the surface in the Western Alps. In the case of the Voltri Ophiolite, which lacks any associated continental massif, this exhumation was likely aided by the buoyancy of the serpentinite-dominated oceanic lithosphere, rather than by coupling to continental crust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105767
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'The subduction and exhumation history of the Voltri Ophiolite, Italy: Evaluating exhumation mechanisms for high-pressure metamorphic massifs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this