A record of spontaneous subduction initiation in the Izu–Bonin–Mariana arc


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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Figure 1: Location of the Amami Sankaku Basin and the Kyushu–Palau Ridge.
Figure 2: Detailed bathymetry of the Amami Sankaku Basin, IODP Site U1438, and seismic survey lines.
Figure 3: Graphic lithologic summary, biostratigraphic- and palaeomagnetic-based age–depth plot for IODP Site U1438.
Figure 4: Comparative geochemical plots of mid-ocean ridge and subduction-related basalts.


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Richard J. Arculus.

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Arculus, R., Ishizuka, O., Bogus, K. et al. A record of spontaneous subduction initiation in the Izu–Bonin–Mariana arc. Nature Geosci 8, 728–733 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2515

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