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Seismic evidence for catastrophic slab loss beneath Kamchatka


In the northwest Pacific Ocean, a sharp corner in the boundary between the Pacific plate and the North American plate joins a subduction zone running along the southern half of the Kamchatka peninsula1 with a region of transcurrent motion along the western Aleutian arc1,2. Here we present images of the seismic structure beneath the Aleutian–Kamchatka junction and the surrounding region, indicating that: the subducting Pacific lithosphere terminates at the Aleutian–Kamchatka junction; no relict slab underlies the extinct northern Kamchatka volcanic arc; and the upper mantle beneath northern Kamchatka has unusually slow shear wavespeeds. From the tectonic and volcanic evolution of Kamchatka over the past 10 Myr (refs 3, 4–5) we infer that at least two episodes of catastrophic slab loss have occurred. About 5 to 10 Myr ago, catastrophic slab loss shut down island-arc volcanic activity north of the Aleutian–Kamchatka junction. A later episode of slab loss, since about 2 Myr ago, seems to be related to the activity of the world's most productive island-arc volcano, Klyuchevskoy6. Removal of lithospheric mantle is commonly discussed in the context of a continental collision, but our findings imply that episodes of slab detachment and loss are also important agents in the evolution of oceanic convergent margins.

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Figure 1: An overview map of the Aleutian–Kamchatka junction (AKJ), showing the tectonic setting and the observational system used.
Figure 2: Maps of seismic velocity distribution.
Figure 3: Vertical cross-sections through the shear velocity model with the same colour scale as in Fig. 2, vertical exaggeration 1:5.
Figure 4: Structure and geodynamics of the AKJ.


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We acknowledge help with seismological fieldwork from the Kamchatka Experimental-Methodical Seismological Department of Russian Academy of Sciences and assistance from IRIS Data Management Center in data and archive management. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Vadim Levin.

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Levin, V., Shapiro, N., Park, J. et al. Seismic evidence for catastrophic slab loss beneath Kamchatka. Nature 418, 763–767 (2002).

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