Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geological Sciences

First Advisor

Kevin H. Mahan

Second Advisor

Rebecca M. Flowers

Third Advisor

Nigel M. Kelly

Fourth Advisor

Vera Schulte-Pelkum

Fifth Advisor

Julien M. Allaz


Deep crustal processes during collisional orogenesis exert first-order controls on the development, scale and behavior of an orogenic belt. The presence or absence of fluids play important roles in these processes by enhancing deformation, catalyzing chemical reactions, and facilitating wholesale alteration of lithologic properties. However, the scales over which these fluid-related interactions occur and the specific feedbacks among them remain poorly constrained. The late Paleoproterozoic Big Sky orogen, expressed as high-grade deep crust exposed in the Laramide basement-cored uplifts of SW Montana, USA, offers an exceptional natural laboratory to address some of these questions.

New data are presented from field and structural analysis, petrology, geochemistry, and geochronology in the Northern Madison Range, a key locality for constraining the hinterland-foreland transition of the orogen. Combined with other regional data, the age of high-grade metamorphism youngs by 80–40 Myr across an ~100 km transect suggesting propagation of the orogenic core towards its foreland over time.

In the southeastern part of the Northern Madison Range, two domains separated by a km-scale ductile shear zone, were transformed by hydrous fluids at significantly different spatial scales. The Gallatin Peak terrane was widely metamorphosed, metasomatized, and penetratively deformed in the presence of fluids at upper amphibolite facies during the Big Sky orogeny. Together, these data suggest that this area was pervasively hydrated and deformed over scales of several kilometers during thermotectonism at 30-25 km paleodepths.

In the Moon Lake block, fluid flow at similar crustal depths and temperatures played a more localized but equally important role. Discrete flow along brittle fractures in metagabbronorite dikes led to nucleation of cm-scale ductile shear zones and metasomatic alteration. A model for shear zone evolution is presented that requires feedbacks between mechanical and chemical processes for strain localization. Seismic anisotropy was calculated for one of these shear zones. Deformation-induced crystallographic preferred orientation (CPO) of anisotropic minerals typically produces seismic anisotropy in the deep crust. However, this shear zone deformed by mechanisms that yielded no significant CPO, in part due to the fluid-rich environment, and very low seismic anisotropy, suggesting that high anisotropy does not always correlate with high strain.