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Geochemical evidence for the melting of subducting oceanic lithosphere at plate edges


Most island-arc magmatism appears to result from the lowering of the melting point of peridotite within the wedge of mantle above subducting slabs owing to the introduction of fluids from the dehydration of subducting oceanic crust1. Volcanic rocks interpreted to contain a component of melt (not just a fluid) from the subducting slab itself are uncommon, but possible examples have been recognized in the Aleutian islands, Baja California, Patagonia and elsewhere2,3,4. The geochemically distinctive rocks from these areas, termed ‘adakites’, are often associated with subducting plates that are young and warm, and therefore thought to be more prone to melting5. But the subducting lithosphere in some adakite locations (such as the Aleutian islands) appears to be too old and hence too cold to melt6,7. This implies either that our interpretation of adakite geochemistry is incorrect, or that our understanding of the tectonic context of adakites is incomplete. Here we present geochemical data from the Kamchatka peninsula and the Aleutian islands that reaffirms the slab-melt interpretation of adakites2, but in the tectonic context of the exposure to mantle flow around the edge of a torn subducting plate. We conclude that adakites are likely to form whenever the edge of a subducting plate is warmed or ablated by mantle flow. The use of adakites as tracers for such plate geometry may improve our understanding of magma genesis and thermal structure in a variety of subduction-zone environments.

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Figure 1: Map view of the study area.
Figure 2: Along-arc seismicity in the Kurile–Kamchatka system.
Figure 3: Whole-rock SiO2 content versus FeO*/MgO ratio in volcanic rocks of the Kamchatka central depression compared to Aleutian adakites.
Figure 4: Sr/Y ratio versus SiO2 content, Mg# and Y content for volcanic rocks of the Kamchatka central depression compared to Aleutian adakites.
Figure 5: Perspective drawing showing a torn Pacific plate subducting to the north beneath the central Aleutians (Adak) and to the west beneath Kamchatka.


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We thank P. Kelemen and K. Furlong for discussions; J. Morris and M. Defant for comments on the manuscript; and A. Bellousov, M. Bellousova, M. Ejzak, A. Koloskov, G. Ponomarov and V. Ponomareva for assistance in the field. This work was supported by the US NSF (G.M.Y. and J.M.L.), the German Science Foundation, the Volkswagen Foundation and the European Union (INTAS) (to G.W. and T.C.), the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (O.V. and T.C.), and by a grant from the Whitaker Foundation to Dickinson College.

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Yogodzinski, G., Lees, J., Churikova, T. et al. Geochemical evidence for the melting of subducting oceanic lithosphere at plate edges. Nature 409, 500–504 (2001).

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