6.5 Metamorphic Facies and Index Minerals

Metamorphic Facies

In any given metamorphic setting there can be a variety of protolith types exposed to metamorphism.  While these rocks will be exposed to the same range of pressure and temperatures conditions within that setting, the metamorphic rock that results will depend on the protolith. A convenient way to indicate the range of possible metamorphic rocks in a particular setting is to group those possibilities into metamorphic facies. In other words, a given metamorphic facies groups together metamorphic rocks that form under the same pressure and temperature conditions, but which have different protoliths.

Figure 6.35 shows the different metamorphic facies as patches of different colors. The axes on the diagram are temperature and depth; the depth within the Earth will determine how much pressure a rock is under, so the vertical depth axis is also a pressure axis. Each patch of color represents a range of temperature and pressure conditions where particular types of metamorphic rocks will form. Metamorphic facies are named for rocks that form under specific conditions (e.g., eclogite facies, amphibolite facies etc.), but those names don’t mean that the facies is limited to that one rock type.

The dashed line on the far left represents a steep gradient for Subduction Zones, with a lower range of temperatures compared to the other dashed lines. The next dashed line over to the right is the green dashed line, which is the typical geothermal gradient that cretaes slate, phyllite, schist, gneiss and migmatite with increasing temperatures and pressures. The next dashed line above this line is the volcanic regions temperature gradient (yellow), where greenschist, amphibolite and then granulite are created. The thin dashed line represents wet granite melts, which form from very high pressures and temperatures of about 600 degrees celsius and 40km depth to near surface depths and temperatures exceeding 800 degrees Celsius.
Figure 6.35 Metamorphic facies and types of metamorphism shown in the context of depth and temperature. The metamorphic rocks formed from a mudrock protolith under regional metamorphism with a typical geothermal gradient are listed. Letters correspond to the types of metamorphism shown in Figure 6.36. Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY 4.0, modified after Steven Earle (2016) CC BY 4.0 view source

Another feature to notice in the diagram are the many dashed lines. The yellow, green, and blue dashed lines represent the geothermal gradients in different environments. Recall that the geothermal gradient describes how rapidly the temperature increases with depth in Earth. In most areas (green dashed line on right), the rate of increase in temperature with depth is 30 °C/km. In other words, if you go 1,000 m down into a mine, the temperature will be roughly 30 °C warmer than the average temperature at the surface.  In volcanic areas (yellow dashed line on top), the geothermal gradient is more like 40 to 50 °C/km, so the temperature rises much faster as you go down. Along subduction zones (blue dashed line), the cold ocean lithosphere keeps temperatures low, so the gradient is typically less than 10 °C/km.

The yellow, green, and blue dashed lines in Figure 6.35 tell you what metamorphic facies you will encounter for rocks from a given depth in that particular environment. A depth of 15 km in a volcanic region falls in the amphibolite facies.  Under more typical conditions, this is the greenschist facies, and in a subduction zone it is the blueschist facies. You can make the connection more directly between the metamorphic facies and the types of metamorphism discussed in the previous section by matching up the letters a through e in Figure 6.35 with the labels in Figure 6.36.


Figure 6.36 Environments of metamorphism in the context of plate tectonics: (a) regional metamorphism related to mountain building at a continent-continent convergent boundary, (b) seafloor (hydrothermal) metamorphism of oceanic crust in the area on either side of a spreading ridge, (c) metamorphism of oceanic crustal rocks within a subduction zone, (d) contact metamorphism adjacent to a magma body at a high level in the crust, and (e) regional metamorphism related to mountain building at a convergent boundary. Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY 4.0, modified after Steven Earle (2015) CC BY 4.0 view source

One other line to notice in Figure 6.35 is the red dashed line on the right-hand side of the figure. This line represents temperatures and pressures where granite will begin to melt if there is water present. Migmatite is to the right of the line because it forms when some of the minerals in a metamorphic rock begin to melt, and then cool and crystallize again.

Exercise: Metamorphic Rocks In Areas with Higher Geothermal Gradients

Figure 6.35 shows the types of rock that might form from mudrock at various points along the curve of the “typical” geothermal gradient (dotted green line). Looking at the geothermal gradient for volcanic regions (dotted yellow line), estimate the depths at which you would expect to find each of those rocks forming from a mudrock parent.

Index Minerals

Some common minerals in metamorphic rocks are shown in Figure 6.37, arranged in order of the temperature ranges within which they tend to be stable. The upper and lower limits of the ranges are intentionally vague because these limits depend on a number of different factors, such as the pressure, the amount of water present, and the overall composition of the rock.

Figure shows the temperature ranges in which index minerals occur which is as folows from lowest temperature to highest: Chlorite, Muscoviete, Biotite, Garnet, Andalusite, and Sillimanite. The range for chlorite is 50-425 degrees Celsius, whereas the range for Sillimanite is 500-900 degrees Celsius
Figure 6.37 Metamorphic index minerals and approximate temperature ranges. Source: Steven Earle (2015) CC BY 4.0 view source

Even though the limits of the stability ranges are vague, the stability range of each mineral is still small enough that the minerals can be used as markers for those metamorphic conditions. Minerals that make good markers of specific ranges of metamorphic conditions are called index minerals.

The Meguma Terrane of Nova Scotia: An Example of How to Use Index Minerals

The southern and southwestern parts of Nova Scotia were regionally metamorphosed during the Devonian Acadian Orogeny (around 400 Ma), when a relatively small continental block—the Meguma Terrane (Figure 6.38, top )—collided with the existing eastern margin of North America. The clastic sedimentary rocks within this terrane were variably metamorphosed.

Image describes the various zones of metamorphism in Nova Scotia. From top to bottom it shows young sediments in the far north, a chlorite zone below that to the west and east, next down is the biotite zone, the garnet zone, the andalusite zone (which surrounds a sillimanite zone in the lower portion of the figure), and an intrusive igneous rock zone that has intruded all of these zones in the middle and northeast part of the island.
Figure 6.38 Regional metamorphic zones in the Meguma Terrane of southwestern Nova Scotia. Top- Map of metamorphic zones. Bottom- Stability ranges for minerals within the Meguma Terrane. Source: Karla Panchuk (2017) CC BY 4.0. Modified after Steven Earle (2015) CC BY 4.0 view source, Keppie & Muecke (1979) and White & Barr (2012).

Index minerals have been used to map areas of higher or lower metamorphic intensity, called metamorphic zones. A metamorphic zone is a region bounded by the first appearance of an index mineral. In the Meguma Terrane, the biotite zone (Figure 6.38, darker green) begins in the east and north with the first appearance of biotite. The biotite zone ends toward the south and west where garnet first appears. Because index minerals can have overlapping stability conditions, a lower-intensity index mineral can still be present in a higher-intensity metamorphic zone.

Knowledge of metamorphic zones makes it possible to draw conclusions about the geological conditions in which metamorphic rocks formed. The highest-intensity metamorphism—the sillimanite zone—is in the southwest. Progressively lower grades of metamorphism exist toward the east and north. The rocks of the sillimanite zone were likely heated to over 700 °C, and therefore must have been buried to depths between 20 km and 25 km. The surrounding lower-grade rocks were not buried as deeply, and the rocks within the peripheral chlorite zone were likely not buried to more than about 5 km depth.

A probable explanation for this pattern is that the area with the highest-grade rocks was buried beneath the central part of a mountain range formed by the collision of the Meguma Terrane with North America. The collision caused rocks to be folded, and to be faulted and stacked on top of each other. These mountain-building processes thickened Earth’s crust, and increased its mass locally as the mountains grew. The increased mass of the growing mountains caused the lithosphere to float lower in the mantle (Figure 6.39, left). As the mountains were eventually eroded over tens of millions of years, the crust floated higher and higher in the mantle, and erosion exposed metamorphic rocks that were deep within the mountains (Figure 6.39, right).

The metamorphic rocks shown in this cross-section occur at temperatures ranging from 100 to 850 degrees celsius. The range of index minerals shown during mountain building from low to high is: Chlorite, Biotite, Garnet, Andelusite, Sillimanite, Migmatite, and Granulite. During mountain building conditions create conditions that are ideal for their formation. Once the mountain range is eroded away, these metamorphic rocks become exposed.
Figure 6.39 Schematic cross-section through the Meguma Terrane. Left- Metamorphic zones and temperatures when mountain-building processes thickened the crust. Right- The mountains have been eroded, exposing metamorphic rocks that formed deep within the mountains. Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY 4.0, modified after Steven Earle (2015) CC BY 4.0 view source left/ right.

Building a narrative for the metamorphism in Nova Scotia’s Meguma Terrane is just one example of how index minerals can be used.

Exercise: Scottish Metamorphic Zones

The map in Figure 6.40 shows part of western Scotland between the Great Glen Fault and the Highland Boundary Fault. The shaded areas are metamorphic rock, and the three metamorphic zones represented are garnet, chlorite, and biotite.

  1. Label the three coloured areas of the map with the appropriate zone names (garnet, chlorite, and biotite).
  2. Indicate which part of the region was likely to have been buried the deepest during metamorphism.

British Geologist George Barrow studied this area in the 1890s and was the first person anywhere to map metamorphic zones based on their mineral assemblages. This pattern of metamorphism is sometimes referred to as Barrovian metamorphism.

Figure 6.40 Metamorphic zones in Barrovian metamorphism. Source: Steven Earle (2015) CC BY 4.0 view source


Keppie, D., & Muecke, G. (1979). Metamorphic map of Nova Scotia. (Nova Scotia Department of Mines and Energy, Map 1979-006).

White, C. E., & Barr, S. M. (2012) Meguma Terrane Revisited: Stratigraphy, Metamorphism, Paleontology and Provenance. Geoscience Canada 39(1). Full text

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