Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jeffrey G. Ryan, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Paul Wetmore, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jonathan G. Wynn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ioan Balintoni, Ph.D.


continental crust, delamination, granitoid, isotopes, trace elements


The issue of granite petrogenesis plays a key role in our overall understanding of the growth and differentiation of continents, as well as in our ability to unravel the tectonic histories of orogenic belts. Granites are ubiquitous magmatic products found in almost all tectonic settings: oceanic and continental rifts (i.e., plagiogranites - extreme basalt differentiates), active continental margins (e.g,. the granitic batholiths of central and southern Andes), continent-continent collision zones (e.g., the orogenic batholiths of the Himalayas, Western Anatolia), post-collisional settings (e.g., the Variscan provinces of Europe), complex within-plates settings (e.g., Limmo massif, Afar, Ethiopia). Furthermore, granitoids are characterized by considerable petrological and geochemical heterogeneity, as they can form from a vast array of sources: sediments (e.g., pelites, arkoses, psammites), metamorphic rocks (e.g., (mica)schists, gneisses, etc.), and igneous rocks (e.g. andesites, dacites, tonalites, etc.). Aside from fertile sources (i.e., protoliths), granite petrogenesis is dependent upon two critical parameters: temperature (to promote melting of the protoliths) and water availability - either as freely available aqueous solutions/vapors (e.g., water input in subduction zones); or water released via dehydration melting of hydrous minerals (e.g., micas, amphiboles). The presence of water in protoliths depresses the melting temperature of mineral components and provides the environment for redistribution of chemical components.

Understanding the origins of granitic rocks presents unique challenges, given that in many of the tectonic settings where granites are encountered, it is clear that their modes of formation can involve a spectrum of igneous and metamorphic processes that are not readily accessible for examination, either through the study of modern environments or via analogy to "classical" localities. The petrogenesis and emplacement of granites in post-collisional tectonic settings is one of the thornier challenges, as these rocks appear to be derived via thermal and magmatic processes within highly deformed and compositionally diverse continental crust for which we lack a clear understanding. A number of unconventional and difficult-to-test mechanisms have been posited to drive crustal heating, melting, and subsequent pluton post-collisional emplacement. Although large volumes of granitic magmas have been emplaced in post-collisional settings, the complexities of the processes active in such settings make it challenging to put forward testable models that effectively combine available geochemical, petrologic, and geophysical data. Models for granite genesis away from plate margins (by means of crustal thickening, thermal blanketing, and internal heating from radioactive decay of 40K, 230Th, 235U, and 238U; delamination of the crustal lithosphere and juxtaposition of hot mantle melts at the base of the crust; underplating of mantle melts; or slab brake-off and upwelling of mantle melts) have been successfully applied in comparatively young orogenic regions, such as the Himalayas, the Carpathians, and Turkey. These models have proven challenging to employ in older orogenic belts, given their sometimes intricate tectonic and metamorphic histories, and the loss of pertinent evidence due to the effects of post-emplacement tectonic reworking, and often extensive alteration and erosion.

A series of ancient but fresh, age-correlative granitic plutons are exposed in Alpine nappes on the flanks of the Carpathians Mountains in southwestern Romania. These granites, all mapped as intruding the Neoproterozoic basement of the Danubian tectonic terrane, were emplaced during the post-collisional stages of two world-scale orogenies: an older, Pan-African event (~600 Ma) and a younger, Variscan event (~330- 280 Ma). My dissertation is focused on the study of late Variscan post-collisional plutons and associated sub-volcanic dykes, as they are tremendous tools for understanding and quantifying the mantle-crust interaction in post-collisional environments and the overall evolution of the continental crust during the Variscan orogeny.

Originally believed to be Proterozoic in age, zircon U/Pb dating showed that the plutons are much younger (Chapter 1 - Post-collisional Late Variscan magmatism in the Danubian domain (South Carpathians, Romania) documented by zircon U/Pb LA-ICP-MS) and correspond to the latest stages of the Variscan orogeny, as recorded elsewhere in the European Variscan provinces. The granitic plutons are relatively small and are generally concordant with the structures preserved by the country rocks. The extraordinary petrological and geochemical heterogeneities, even at pluton scale (Chapter 2 - Petrology and geochemistry of the Late Variscan post-collisional Furătura granitic pluton South. Carpathian Mts. (Romania)) argue against unique protoliths and simple evolutionary processes (e.g., closed-system fractional crystallization; anatexis). Trace elemental data for the Furătura pluton shows that the melts were formed in equilibrium with a garnet-amphibole restite, under pressure-temperature conditions deeper than the plagioclase stability field, implying that the melting took place at depths in excess of 40 km in the continental crust. Stable and radiogenic isotope data suggest that a protolith was of (possibly enriched) mantle affinities, and that the melts were subsequently contaminated in various degrees by deep crustal lithologies. In comparison, other post-collisional Variscan plutons from the Danubian domain (Chapter 4 - The role of the continental crust and lithospheric mantle in Variscan post-collisional magmatism - insights from Muntele Mic, Ogradena, Cherbelezu, Sfârdinu, and Culmea Cernei plutons (Romanian Southern Carpathians)) have trace elemental compositions that suggest they were formed at different levels in the crust, under P-T conditions corresponding to both garnet-amphibole and plagioclase stability fields. Some of the plutons lack mantle geochemical signatures and their isotopic compositions are indicative of substantial involvement of both lower- and upper-crustal rocks in their formation and subsequent evolution. On the other hand, plutons emplaced during the same time interval and most likely in close geographical proximity have trace elemental and isotopic compositions indicating strong input from previously enriched mantle components which experienced various degrees of assimilation fractionation-crystallization and/or assimilation of continental crust material during their evolution. This variability in both protoliths and processes responsible for the formation of the granites, coupled with the presence of mantle signatures in late-orogenic post-collisional melts are strong evidence to support delamination as means of providing both the mantle-derived input and energy required for generation of granitoids in the crust. The pronounced variation in petrological and chemical compositions of synchronous plutons suggests that delamination in the Danubian domain was not a single, large scale event that affected the entire crust, but rather a collection of disparate, spatially and chronologically limited event, that affected the Variscan crust during the latest stages of the orogeny.

This hypothesis is further tested on a series of sub-volcanic dykes (the Motru Dyke Swarm) crosscutting the entire Danubian basement (Chapter 3 - Post-collisional magmatism associated with Variscan orogeny in the Danubian Domain (Romanian Southern Carpathians): the Motru Dyke Swarm). Initially, the emplacement age of these dykes was assumed as "pre-Silurian" but our mapping has showed that they intrude components of the Danubian domain that shared a documented common history not earlier than the Carboniferous. Furthermore, the dykes are in intrusive relationship with two of the Danubian Variscan plutons, thus arguing for an early Permian emplacement age. Geochemical data show extraordinary heterogeneities in the dykes' composition and record both mantle and crust involvement in their formation. The dykes were emplaced at much shallower depths in the crust, as compared with the granitic plutons. Still, their isotopic compositions clearly indicate that they sampled both lower- and upper-crustal compositions during their evolution. This means that after the crustal thickening episodes that define continent-continent collisions, during the latest stages of the Variscan orogeny, the crust became progressively thinner, as a way to compensate for its metastable state. Thinning of the crust is greatly favored by delamination of the lithosphere. A delamination event, which usually postdates the cessation of continental collision or prolonged crustal shortening, involves the geologically rapid foundering of negatively buoyant lithosphere comprised of mantle and (potentially) lower crust into underlying hotter and less dense asthenosphere. Such a process will remove the lithospheric mantle (and potentially segments of the lower crust) along pre-existing lineaments or mechanical flaws, and juxtapose hot upwelling asthenosphere against the base of the crust, leading to partial melting.

Field, petrological, and geochemical data presented in my dissertation document pronounced variations in the overall composition of synchronous plutons and dykes, and further suggest that delamination in the Danubian domain was an active process. This bears great importance in our understanding of the evolution of the crust and argues that mantle-crust interactions are responsible for the generation of continental crust even in the latest stages of an orogen.