Direct observation of peak pressure deformation in exhumed subduction channels is difficult because little evidence of this deformation survives later syn-exhumation deformation. Most ultrahigh-pressure parageneses are found in continental derived metamorphic rocks making continental subduction the best context to observe peak pressure deformation. Whereas many studies have enlightened the main driving parameters of exhumation such as buoyancy forces, low viscosity in the subduction channel, overburden removal by erosion and normal faulting, a basic question is seldom considered: why is a tectonic unit disconnected from the descending lithosphere and why does it start its way towards the surface? This event, seminal to exhumation processes, must involve some deformation and decoupling of the exhumed slice from the descending slab at peak pressure conditions or close to it. Our field observations in the Bergen arc show that Caledonian eclogitization and later amphibolitization of a granulitic terrane was achieved with a consistent component of simple shear compatible with the sense of the Caledonian subduction. Thus, the sequence of deformation preserved in the Bergen Arc documents the decoupling of subducted crustal material from the descending slab at the onset of exhumation. This observation suggests that deformation in the subduction channel is largely controlled by kinematic boundary conditions, i.e. underthrusting of the subducting slab. In this context of simple shear, metamorphic reactions assisted by fracturating, fluid infiltration and ductile deformation lower the resistance of rocks and allow the localisation of shear zones and the decoupling of buoyant tectonic units from the subducting slab. These tectonic units can then be incorporated into the channel circulation and start their upward travel.
- Shear zones