Continental break-up and collision in the Neoproterozoic and Palaeozoic — A tale of Baltica and Laurentia
During the Neoproterozoic and Palaeozoic the two continents of Baltica and Laurentia witnessed the break-up of one supercontinent, Rodinia, and the formation of another, but less long-lived, Pangea. Baltica and Laurentia played central roles in a tectonic menage a trois that included major orogenic events, a redistribution of palaeogeography and a brief involvement of both with Gondwana. Many of these plate re-organisations took place over a short time interval and invite a re-evaluation of earlier geodynamic models which limited the speeds at which large continental plates could move to an arbitrarily low value. Baltica and Laurentia probably shared a common drift history for the time interval 750 - 600 Ma as they rotated clockwise and drifted southward from an equatorial position during the opening of the Proto-Pacific between Laurentia and East Gondwana (initial break-up of Rodinia). On their combined approach toward the south pole, Baltica and Laurentia were glaciated during the Varanger glaciations. Although the two continents drifted toward the south pole during the Late Proterozoic, they began to separate at around 600 Ma (rift to drift) to form the Iapetus Ocean through asymmetric rifting and relative rotations of up to 180°. Initiation of rifting on the Baltic margin is marked by the 650 Ma Egersund tholeiitic dykes (SW Norway) which contain abundant lower crustal zenoliths, and the tholeiitic magma was probably derived from a mantle plume. In latest Precambrian time, the final redistribution of Rodinia is characterised by high plate velocities. In particular, Laurentia began a rapid, up to 20 cm/yr, ascent to equatorial latitudes and essentially stayed in low latitudes throughout most of the Palaeozoic. The high velocities suggest either that Laurentia was pushed off a lower mantle heat anomaly originating from supercontinental mantle insulation or that Laurentia was pulled toward a subduction-generated cold spot in the proto-Pacific. Baltica, except for a short and rapid excursion to lower latitudes in the Late Vendian, remained mostly in intermediate to high southerly latitudes and closer to the Gondwana margin until Early Ordovician times. In Early Ordovician times, Arenig-Llanvirn platform trilobites show a broad distinction between the continents of Laurentia/Siberia/North China Block (Bathyurid), Baltica (Ptychopygine/ Megalaspid) and the areas of NW Gondwana/Avalonia/Armorica (Calymenacean-Dalmanitacean). During the Ordovician, Baltica rotated and moved northward, approaching close enough to Laurentia by the late Caradoc for trilobite and brachiopod spat to cross the intervening Iapetus Ocean. Docking appears to have been irregular both in time and manner: the collision between Scotland/Greenland and western Norway resulted in the early Scandian Orogeny in the Silurian (c. 425 Ma), but further south, there is evidence of late Silurian impingement with subduction of Avalonian continental crust (in England and Ireland) below the eastern edge of Laurentia until the Emsian. In the northern Appalachians the main time of collision appears to have been during the Emsian/Eifellian Acadian Orogeny. Recent analyses invalidates the traditional concept of a sustained orthogonal relationship between Baltica and Laurentia across a single Iapetus Ocean throughout the Caledonide evolution. The active margin of Baltica (Scandinavian Caledonides) faced Siberia during the Late Cambrian and Early Ordovician with oceanic separation between these landmasses in the order of 1200-1500 km. This may explain the local occureences of Siberia-Laurentian type Bathyarid tribobite faunas in Central Norwegian Caledonian nappes, earlier interpreted as Laurentia-Baltica trilobite mixing. Subsequent counterclockwise rotation of Baltica transferred the Caledonian margin in the direction of Laurentia by Silurian times, when the two continents once again started to collide to form Euramerica. This rotation, along with the strongly asymmetric opening of the Iapetus at around 600 Ma, demonstrates a complexity in Precambrian-Palaeozoic plate tectonics, i.e. a collage of metastable plate boundaries which have perhaps too often been simplified to an orthagonal Wilson cycle tectonic scenario.