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Concept: Volcanic arc


Incorporation of subducted slab in arc volcanism plays an important role in producing the geochemical and isotopic variations in arc lavas. The mechanism and process by which the slab materials are incorporated, however, are still uncertain. Here, we report, to our knowledge, the first set of Mg isotopic data for a suite of arc lava samples from Martinique Island in the Lesser Antilles arc, which displays one of the most extreme geochemical and isotopic ranges, although the origin of this variability is still highly debated. We find the δ(26)Mg of the Martinique Island lavas varies from -0.25 to -0.10, in contrast to the narrow range that characterizes the mantle (-0.25 ± 0.04, 2 SD). These high δ(26)Mg values suggest the incorporation of isotopically heavy Mg from the subducted slab. The large contrast in MgO content between peridotite, basalt, and sediment makes direct mixing between sediment and peridotite, or assimilation by arc crust sediment, unlikely to be the main mechanism to modify Mg isotopes. Instead, the heavy Mg isotopic signature of the Martinique arc lavas requires that the overall composition of the mantle wedge is buffered and modified by the preferential addition of heavy Mg isotopes from fluids released from the altered subducted slab during fluid-mantle interaction. This, in turn, suggests transfer of a large amount of fluid-mobile elements from the subducting slab to the mantle wedge and makes Mg isotopes an excellent tracer of deep fluid migration.

Concepts: Isotope, Volcano, Basalt, Crust, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Geochemistry, Lesser Antilles


Mount St Helens is the most active volcano within the Cascade arc; however, its location is unusual because it lies 50 km west of the main axis of arc volcanism. Subduction zone thermal models indicate that the down-going slab is decoupled from the overriding mantle wedge beneath the forearc, resulting in a cold mantle wedge that is unlikely to generate melt. Consequently, the forearc location of Mount St Helens raises questions regarding the extent of the cold mantle wedge and the source region of melts that are responsible for volcanism. Here using, high-resolution active-source seismic data, we show that Mount St Helens sits atop a sharp lateral boundary in Moho reflectivity. Weak-to-absent PmP reflections to the west are attributed to serpentinite in the mantle-wedge, which requires a cold hydrated mantle wedge beneath Mount St Helens (<∼700 °C). These results suggest that the melt source region lies east towards Mount Adams.

Concepts: Earth, Earthquake, Volcanic arc, Pacific Ring of Fire, Cascade Range, Cascade Volcanoes, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams


A simple model for necking and detachment of subducting slabs is developed to include the coupling between grain-sensitive rheology and grain-size evolution with damage. Necking is triggered by thickened buoyant crust entrained into a subduction zone, in which case grain damage accelerates necking and allows for relatively rapid slab detachment, i.e., within 1 My, depending on the size of the crustal plug. Thick continental crustal plugs can cause rapid necking while smaller plugs characteristic of ocean plateaux cause slower necking; oceanic lithosphere with normal or slightly thickened crust subducts without necking. The model potentially explains how large plateaux or continental crust drawn into subduction zones can cause slab loss and rapid changes in plate motion and/or induce abrupt continental rebound.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Crust, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Orogeny, Oceanic crust, Continental crust


The western quarter of North America consists of accreted terranes–crustal blocks added over the past 200 million years–but the reason for this is unclear. The widely accepted explanation posits that the oceanic Farallon plate acted as a conveyor belt, sweeping terranes into the continental margin while subducting under it. Here we show that this hypothesis, which fails to explain many terrane complexities, is also inconsistent with new tomographic images of lower-mantle slabs, and with their locations relative to plate reconstructions. We offer a reinterpretation of North American palaeogeography and test it quantitatively: collision events are clearly recorded by slab geometry, and can be time calibrated and reconciled with plate reconstructions and surface geology. The seas west of Cretaceous North America must have resembled today’s western Pacific, strung with island arcs. All proto-Pacific plates initially subducted into almost stationary, intra-oceanic trenches, and accumulated below as massive vertical slab walls. Above the slabs, long-lived volcanic archipelagos and subduction complexes grew. Crustal accretion occurred when North America overrode the archipelagos, causing major episodes of Cordilleran mountain building.

Concepts: United States, Plate tectonics, North America, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Island arc, Orogeny, Continental crust


A long-standing theory for the genesis of continental crust is that it is formed in subduction zones. However, the observed seismic properties of lower crust and upper mantle in oceanic island arcs differ significantly from those in the continental crust. Accordingly, significant modifications of lower arc crust must occur, if continental crust is indeed formed from island arcs. Here we investigate how the seismic characteristics of arc crust are transformed into those of the continental crust by calculating the density and seismic structure of two exposed sections of island arc (Kohistan and Talkeetna). The Kohistan crustal section is negatively buoyant with respect to the underlying depleted upper mantle at depths exceeding 40 kilometres and is characterized by a steady increase in seismic velocity similar to that observed in active arcs. In contrast, the lower Talkeetna crust is density sorted, preserving only relicts (about ten to a hundred metres thick) of rock with density exceeding that of the underlying mantle. Specifically, the foundering of the lower Talkeetna crust resulted in the replacement of dense mafic and ultramafic cumulates by residual upper mantle, producing a sharp seismic discontinuity at depths of around 38 to 42 kilometres, characteristic of the continental Mohorovičić discontinuity (the Moho). Dynamic calculations indicate that foundering is an episodic process that occurs in most arcs with a periodicity of half a million to five million years. Moreover, because foundering will continue after arc magmatism ceases, this process ultimately results in the formation of the continental Moho.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Crust, Structure of the Earth, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Island arc, Orogeny


We have traced the particle path of high-pressure metasedimentary rocks on Elba Island, Northern Apennines, with the help of a U-Pb-Hf detrital zircon study. One quarter of the analysed zircons are surprisingly young, 41-30 Ma, with a main age peak at ca. 32 Ma, indicating an unexpected early Oligocene maximum deposition age. These Oligocene ages with negative εHf indicate a volcanic source region in the central-southern Alps. Though young by geological means, these zircons record an extraordinary geodynamic history. They originated in a volcanic arc, during the convergence/collision of the the Adria microplate with Europe from ca. 65 to 30 Ma. Thereafter, the Oligocene zircons travelled ca. 400 km southward along the Adria margin and the accretionary prism to present-day Tuscany, where they were subducted to depths of at least 40 km. Shortly thereafter, they were brought to the surface again in the wake of hinge roll back of the Apennine subduction zone and the resulting rapid extensional exhumation. Such a zircon roller coaster requires a microplate that has back-to-back subduction zones with opposing polarities on two sides.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Geology, Earthquake, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Island arc, Convergent boundary


Dual subduction represents an unusual case of subduction where one oceanic plate subducts on top of another, creating a highly complex tectonic setting. Because of the complex interaction between the two subducted plates, the origin of seismicity in such region is still not fully understood. Here we investigate the thermal structure of dual subduction beneath Kanto, central Japan formed as a consequence of a unique case of triple trench junction. Using high-resolution three-dimensional thermo-mechanical models tailored for the specific dual subduction settings beneath Kanto, we show that, compared with single-plate subduction systems, subduction of double slabs produces a strong variation of mantle flow, thermal and fluid release pattern that strongly controls the regional seismicity distribution. Here the deepening of seismicity in the Pacific slab located under the Philippine Sea slab is explained by delaying at greater depths (~150 km depth) of the eclogitization front in this region. On the other hand, the shallower seismicity observed in the Philippine Sea slab is related to a young and warm plate subduction and probably to the presence of a hot mantle flow traveling underneath the slab and then moving upward on top of the slab.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Depth perception, Earthquake, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Convergent boundary, Continental crust


For some volcanic arcs, the geochemistry of volcanic rocks erupting above subducted oceanic fracture zones is consistent with higher than normal fluid inputs to arc magma sources. Here we use enrichment of boron (B/Zr) in volcanic arc lavas as a proxy to evaluate relative along-strike inputs of slab-derived fluids in the Aleutian, Andean, Cascades and Trans-Mexican arcs. Significant B/Zr spikes coincide with subduction of prominent fracture zones in the relatively cool Aleutian and Andean subduction zones where fracture zone subduction locally enhances fluid introduction beneath volcanic arcs. Geodynamic models of subduction have not previously considered how fracture zones may influence the melt and fluid distribution above slabs. Using high-resolution three-dimensional coupled petrological-thermomechanical numerical simulations of subduction, we show that enhanced production of slab-derived fluids and mantle wedge melts concentrate in areas where fracture zones are subducted, resulting in significant along-arc variability in magma source compositions and processes.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Igneous rock, Basalt, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Island arc, Oceanic trench


Subduction of intraplate seamounts beneath a geochemically depleted mantle wedge provides a seldom opportunity to trace element recycling and mantle flow in subduction zones. Here we present trace element and Sr, Nd and Pb isotopic compositions of lavas from the central Tonga-Kermadec arc, west of the contemporary Louisville-Tonga trench intersection, to provide new insights into the effects of Louisville seamount subduction. Elevated (206)Pb/(204)Pb, (208)Pb/(204)Pb, (86)Sr/(87)Sr in lavas from the central Tonga-Kermadec arc front are consistent with localized input of subducted alkaline Louisville material (lavas and volcaniclastics) into sub-arc partial melts. Furthermore, absolute Pacific Plate motion models indicate an anticlockwise rotation in the subducted Louisville seamount chain that, combined with estimates of the timing of fluid release from the subducting slab, suggests primarily trench-normal mantle flow beneath the central Tonga-Kermadec arc system.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Crust, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Convergent boundary


Subduction-zone magmatism is triggered by the addition of H(2)O-rich slab-derived components: aqueous fluid, hydrous partial melts, or supercritical fluids from the subducting slab. Geochemical analyses of island arc basalts suggest two slab-derived signatures of a melt and a fluid. These two liquids unite to a supercritical fluid under pressure and temperature conditions beyond a critical endpoint. We ascertain critical endpoints between aqueous fluids and sediment or high-Mg andesite (HMA) melts located, respectively, at 83-km and 92-km depths by using an in situ observation technique. These depths are within the mantle wedge underlying volcanic fronts, which are formed 90 to 200 km above subducting slabs. These data suggest that sediment-derived supercritical fluids, which are fed to the mantle wedge from the subducting slab, react with mantle peridotite to form HMA supercritical fluids. Such HMA supercritical fluids separate into aqueous fluids and HMA melts at 92 km depth during ascent. The aqueous fluids are fluxed into the asthenospheric mantle to form arc basalts, which are locally associated with HMAs in hot subduction zones. The separated HMA melts retain their composition in limited equilibrium with the surrounding mantle. Alternatively, they equilibrate with the surrounding mantle and change the major element chemistry to basaltic composition. However, trace element signatures of sediment-derived supercritical fluids remain more in the melt-derived magma than in the fluid-induced magma, which inherits only fluid-mobile elements from the sediment-derived supercritical fluids. Separation of slab-derived supercritical fluids into melts and aqueous fluids can elucidate the two slab-derived components observed in subduction zone magma chemistry.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Critical point, Magma, Basalt, Crust, Subduction, Volcanic arc, Island arc