The initiation of tectonic plate subduction into the mantle is poorly understood. If subduction is induced by the push of a distant mid-ocean ridge or subducted slab pull, we expect compression and uplift of the overriding plate. In contrast, spontaneous subduction initiation, driven by subsidence of dense lithosphere along faults adjacent to buoyant lithosphere, would result in extension and magmatism. The rock record of subduction initiation is typically obscured by younger deposits, so evaluating these possibilities has proved elusive. Here we analyse the geochemical characteristics of igneous basement rocks and overlying sediments, sampled from the Amami Sankaku Basin in the northwest Philippine Sea. The uppermost basement rocks are areally widespread and supplied via dykes. They are similar in composition and age—as constrained by the biostratigraphy of the overlying sediments—to the 52–48-million-year-old basalts in the adjacent Izu–Bonin–Mariana fore-arc. The geochemical characteristics of the basement lavas indicate that a component of subducted lithosphere was involved in their genesis, and the lavas were derived from mantle source rocks that were more melt-depleted than those tapped at mid-ocean ridges. We propose that the basement lavas formed during the inception of Izu–Bonin–Mariana subduction in a mode consistent with the spontaneous initiation of subduction.

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This research used samples and data provided by the International Ocean Discovery Program. We thank the USIO staff and the SIEM Offshore crew for their invaluable assistance and skill during the Expedition. Funding was provided by the Australian Research Council and the ANZIC office to R.J.A. Additional funding was provided to M.H.A. by the Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia, and to A.N.B.-M. by Fugro AG. We gratefully acknowledge the initial inspiration and ongoing advice of Brian Taylor and the drilling proposal proponents, whose efforts led to IODP Expedition 351. We thank Sherm Bloomer and Brian Taylor for their highly constructive comments and suggestions.

Author information


  1. Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia

    • Richard J. Arculus
    •  & Philipp A. Brandl
  2. Geological Survey of Japan/AIST, Central 7 1-1-1 Higashi, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8567, Japan

    • Osamu Ishizuka
  3. Research and Development Center for Ocean Drilling Science, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, 2-15 Natsushima-cho, Yokosuka 237-0061, Japan

    • Osamu Ishizuka
  4. International Ocean Discovery Program, Texas A&M University, 1000 Discovery Drive, College Station, Texas 77845-9547, USA

    • Kara A. Bogus
  5. Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Boulevard, MC 2520-21, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • Michael Gurnis
  6. Earth and Environment Department, Florida International University, Modesto Maidique Campus, AHC5-394, Miami, Florida 33199, USA

    • Rosemary Hickey-Vargas
  7. Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University, 108 Carraway Building, Woodward Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32306-0001, USA

    • Mohammed H. Aljahdali
  8. Center for Energy Geoscience, School of Earth and Environment, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Perth, Western Australia 6009, Australia

    • Alexandre N. Bandini-Maeder
  9. Department of Earth Sciences, Indiana University-Purdue University, 723 West Michigan Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202, USA

    • Andrew P. Barth
  10. Geozentrum Nordbayern, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Schlossgarten 5, 91054 Erlangen, Germany

    • Philipp A. Brandl
  11. Borehole Research Group, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, PO Box 1000, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Laureen Drab
  12. Technological Institute of Micropaleontology, University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos, Bloco 6K, Avenue Unisinos, 950-B Cristo Rei, Sao Leopoldo 93022, Brazil

    • Rodrigo do Monte Guerra
  13. Department of Solid Earth Geochemistry, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, 2-15 Natsushima-cho, Yokosuka 237-0061, Japan

    • Morihisa Hamada
  14. Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 7 Nanhai Road, Qingdao 266071, China

    • Fuqing Jiang
  15. College of Science and Engineering, Kanazawa University, Kakuma-machi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-1192, Japan

    • Kyoko Kanayama
    •  & Yuki Kusano
  16. School of Geography, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

    • Sev Kender
  17. British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG, UK

    • Sev Kender
  18. Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 511 Kehua Street, Guangzhou 510640, China

    • He Li
  19. Department of Earth Sciences, University of New Hampshire, 56 College Road, 214 James Hall, Durham, New Hampshire 03824, USA

    • Lorne C. Loudin
  20. Institute of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Budapestlaan 17, Utrecht 3584, The Netherlands

    • Marco Maffione
  21. Department of Geological Sciences, California State University, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, California 91330-8266, USA

    • Kathleen M. Marsaglia
  22. Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Lausanne, Geopolis, Lausanne 1015, Switzerland

    • Anders McCarthy
  23. School of Earth Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia

    • Sebastién Meffre
  24. School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Plymouth University, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK

    • Antony Morris
  25. Institut für Geophysik und Extraterrestrische Physik, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Medelssohnstrasse 3, Braunschweig 38106, Germany

    • Martin Neuhaus
  26. School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • Ivan P. Savov
  27. Geosciences Department/CESAM, Universidade de Aveiro, Campus Universitario Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal

    • Clara Sena
  28. College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 CEOAS Administration Building, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • Frank J. Tepley III
  29. School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK

    • Cees van der Land
  30. Department of Earth & Ocean Sciences, University of South Carolina, 710 Sumter Street, EWSC617, Columbia, South Carolina 29208, USA

    • Gene M. Yogodzinski
  31. Earth Sciences, Nanjing University, 22 Hankou Road, Nanjing 210093, China

    • Zhaohui Zhang


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All co-authors were participants on IODP Expedition 351 and participated in generating the data published herein, the data analysis and interpretation, and contributed to the writing of this manuscript. Specifically: R.J.A., O.I. and K.A.B. planned and implemented the expedition; A.P.B., P.A.B., R.H.-V., F.J., K.K., Y.K., H.L., K.M.M., A.McCarthy, S.M., I.P.S., F.J.T.III and G.M.Y. generated the lithologic data; M.H.J., A.N.B.-M., R.d.M.G. and S.K. performed the biostratigraphy; M.M. and A.Morris performed the magnetostratigraphy; L.D., M.G., M.H. and M.N. calculated the thermal age of basement; and L.C.L., C.S., C.v.d.L. and Z.Z. generated the geochemical data.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Richard J. Arculus.

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