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Early evolution of a young back-arc basin in the Havre Trough



Back-arc basins are found at convergent plate boundaries. Nevertheless, they are zones of significant crustal extension that show volcanic and hydrothermal processes somewhat similar to those of mid-ocean ridges. Accepted models imply the initial rifting and thinning of a pre-existing volcanic arc until seafloor spreading gradually develops over timescales of a few million years. The Havre Trough northeast of New Zealand is a unique place on Earth where the early stages of back-arc basin formation are well displayed in the recent geological record. Here we present evidence that, in this region, rifting of the original volcanic arc occurred in a very narrow area about 10–15 km wide, which could only accommodate minimal stretching for a very short time before mass balance required oceanic crustal accretion. An initial burst of seafloor spreading started around 5.5–5.0 million years ago and concluded abruptly about 3.0–2.5 million years ago, after which arc magmatism dominated the crustal accretion. The sudden transition between these different tectonomagmatic regimes is linked to trench rollback promoted by gradual sinking of the subducting lithosphere, which could have diverted the arc flux outside the region of seafloor spreading and induced the vertical realignment of surface volcanism with the source of arc melts at depth.

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Fig. 1: Location map of the Havre Trough and subduction of the Pacific Plate underneath the Australian Plate.
Fig. 2: Bathymetric and geophysical maps of the Havre Trough.
Fig. 3: Multichannel seismic section M4 from the MANGO experiment28.
Fig. 4: Geophysical models of the Havre Trough along the three continuous lines in Fig. 1.
Fig. 5: Conceptual model of the Havre Trough opening, section view (left) and map sketch (right).

Data availability

The survey magnetic data can be downloaded from the NGDC database The gravity data derived from satellite altimetry can be downloaded from The regional bathymetry grid shown in Fig. 1 can be downloaded from The high-resolution bathymetry and geophysical grids used in this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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We acknowledge the captains and crews of RVs Yokosuka, Sonne, Tangaroa, Roger Revelle and Thompson for their hard work to support geophysical and bathymetry data acquisition. Funding from the New Zealand Government (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) helped enable this study and assist scientists with cruise travels and survey operations. C.T. was partly funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 79308.

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F.C.T., C.E.J.D.R. and C.T. conceived the project and developed the conceptual model D.B. contributed to the seismic interpretation and to the conceptual model and R.W. contributed to the tectonic and volcanology interpretation. All the authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Fabio Caratori Tontini.

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Caratori Tontini, F., Bassett, D., de Ronde, C.E.J. et al. Early evolution of a young back-arc basin in the Havre Trough. Nat. Geosci. 12, 856–862 (2019).

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