Terrane accretion is a ubiquitous process of plate tectonics that delivers fragments of subduction-resistant lithosphere into a subduction zone, resulting in events such as ocean plateau docking or continental assembly and orogenesis. The post-collisional extension of continental terranes is a well-documented tectonic process linked with gravitational collapse and/or trench retreat. Here we propose that microcontinental terranes can also undergo a substantial extension before their collision with the upper plate, owing to pull from the trenchward part of the subducting plate. Forward geodynamic numerical experiments demonstrate that this pre-collisional extension can occur over a protracted phase on microcontinents that are drifting towards a subduction zone, which distinguishes the deformation from post-collisional extension on the overriding plate, as is traditionally postulated. The results show that the magnitude of pre-collisional extension is inversely correlated with the size of the microcontinental terrane and imposed convergence velocity. We find that locations along the Tethyan belts, namely, the Sesia zone and Eastern Anatolia, are evidence for this style of pre-collisional extension, as this mechanism reconciles with geothermobarometric data and kinematic analyses. The operation of this subduction pulley reveals that drifting lithospheric plates may undergo substantial tectonic events before the arrival and involvement with regular plate boundary processes.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The data—the outputs of the numerical experiments—that support the findings of this study are available at https://doi.org/10.5683/SP2/9RDQYB.
The SOPALE modelling code was developed by the Dalhousie University Geodynamics group; this is not a freely available open-source code. Documentation for the code and the address of the developer research group may be found at http://geodynamics.oceanography.dal.ca/sopaledoc.html.
McKenzie, D. Some remarks on the development of sedimentary basins. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 40, 25–32 (1978).
Şengör, A. M. C. & Burke, K. Relative timing of rifting and volcanism on Earth and its tectonic implications. Geophys. Res. Lett. 5, 419–421 (1978).
Turcotte, D. L. & Emerman, S. H. Mechanisms of active and passive rifting. Dev. Geotecton. 19, 39–50 (1983).
Royden, L. H. Evolution of retreating subduction boundaries formed during continental collision. Tectonics 12, 629–638 (1993).
Jolivet, L. & Faccenna, C. Mediterranean extension and the Africa–Eurasia collision. Tectonics 19, 1095–1106 (2000).
Brun, J.-P. & Faccenna, C. Exhumation of high-pressure rocks driven by slab rollback. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 272, 1–7 (2008).
Compagnoni, R. et al. The Sesia–Lanzo zone, a slice of continental crust with Alpine high pressure-low temperature assemblages in the Western Italian Alps. Rend. Soc. Ital. Mineral. Petrol. 33, 281–334 (1977).
Avigad, D. Pre-collisional ductile extension in the internal western Alps (Sesia zone, Italy). Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 137, 175–188 (1996).
Dewey, J. F. Extensional collapse of orogens. Tectonics 7, 1123–1139 (1988).
Rey, P., Vanderhaeghe, O. & Teyssier, C. Gravitational collapse of the continental crust: definition, regimes and modes. Tectonophysics 342, 435–449 (2001).
Price, R. A. The Cordilleran foreland thrust and fold belt in the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains. Geol. Soc. Lond. Spec. Publ. 9, 427–448 (1981).
Nur, A. & Ben-Avraham, Z. Oceanic plateaus, the fragmentation of continents, and mountain building. J. Geophys. Res. 8, 3644–3661 (1982).
Coney, P. J., Jones, D. L. & Monger, J. W. H. Cordilleran suspect terranes. Nature 288, 329–333 (1980).
Sigloch, K., McQuarrie, N. & Nolet, G. Two-stage subduction history under North America inferred from multiple-frequency tomography. Nat. Geosci. 1, 458–462 (2008).
Fullsack, P. An arbitrary Lagrangian–Eulerian formulation for creeping flows and its application in tectonic models. Geophys. J. Int. 120, 1–23 (1995).
Pysklywec, R. N., Beaumont, C. & Fullsack, P. Lithospheric deformation during the early stages of continental collision: numerical experiments and comparison with South Island, New Zealand. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 107, https://doi.org/10.1029/2001JB000252 (2002).
Gray, R. & Pysklywec, R. N. Geodynamic models of mature continental collision: evolution of an orogen from lithospheric subduction to continental retreat/delamination. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 117, B03408 (2012).
Göğüş, O. H., Pysklywec, R. N., Şengör, A. M. C. C. & Gün, E. Drip tectonics and the enigmatic uplift of the Central Anatolian Plateau. Nat. Commun. 8, 1538 (2017).
Bodur, Ö. F., Göğüş, O. H., Pysklywec, R. N. & Okay, A. I. Mantle lithosphere rheology, vertical tectonics, and the exhumation of (U)HP rocks. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 123, 1824–1839 (2018).
Heron, P. J., Pysklywec, R. N. & Stephenson, R. Lasting mantle scars lead to perennial plate tectonics. Nat. Commun. 7, 11834 (2016).
Vink, G. E., Morgan, W. J. & Zhao, W.-L. Preferential rifting of continents: a source of displaced terranes. J. Geophys. Res. 89, 10072–10076 (1984).
Wernicke, B. Uniform-sense normal simple shear of the continental lithosphere. Can. J. Earth Sci. 22, 108–125 (1985).
Lynch, H. D. & Morgan, P. The tensile strength of the lithosphere and the localization of extension. Geol. Soc. Lond. Spec. Publ. 28, 53–65 (1987).
Molnar, P. Continental tectonics in the aftermath of plate tectonics. Nature 335, 131–137 (1988).
Ranalli, G. & Murphy, D. C. Rheological stratification of the lithosphere. Tectonophysics 132, 281–295 (1987).
Kohlstedt, D. L., Evans, B. & Mackwell, S. J. Strength of the lithosphere: constraints imposed by laboratory experiments. J. Geophys. Res. 100, 17587 (1995).
van den Broek, J. M. & Gaina, C. Microcontinents and continental fragments associated with subduction systems. Tectonics 39, e2020TC006063 (2020).
Gleason, G. C. & Tullis, J. A flow law for dislocation creep of quartz aggregates determined with the molten salt cell. Tectonophysics 247, 1–23 (1995).
Mackwell, S. J., Zimmerman, M. E. & Kohlstedt, D. L. High-temperature deformation of dry diabase with application to tectonics on Venus. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 103, 975–984 (1998).
Davies, J. H. & von Blanckenburg, F. Slab breakoff: a model of lithosphere detachment and its test in the magmatism and deformation of collisional orogens. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 129, 85–102 (1995).
van Hunen, J. & Allen, M. B. Continental collision and slab break-off: a comparison of 3-D numerical models with observations. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 302, 27–37 (2011).
Freeburn, R., Bouilhol, P., Maunder, B., Magni, V. & van Hunen, J. Numerical models of the magmatic processes induced by slab breakoff. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 478, 203–213 (2017).
Molnar, P. & Gray, D. Subduction of continental lithosphere: some constraints and uncertainties. Geology 7, 58 (1979).
Coward, M. & Dietrich, D. Alpine tectonics—an overview. Geol. Soc. Lond. Spec. Publ. 45, 1–29 (1989).
Rosenbaum, G. & Lister, G. S. The Western Alps from the Jurassic to Oligocene: spatio-temporal constraints and evolutionary reconstructions. Earth Sci. Rev. 69, 281–306 (2005).
Manzotti, P., Ballèvre, M., Zucali, M., Robyr, M. & Engi, M. The tectonometamorphic evolution of the Sesia–Dent Blanche nappes (internal Western Alps): review and synthesis. Swiss J. Geosci. 107, 309–336 (2014).
Babist, J., Handy, M. R., Konrad-Schmolke, M. & Hammerschmidt, K. Precollisional, multistage exhumation of subducted continental crust: the Sesia Zone, western Alps. Tectonics 25, TC6008 (2006).
Oberhänsli, R., Hunziker, J. C., Martinotti, G. & Stern, W. B. Geochemistry, geochronology and petrology of Monte Mucrone: an example of EO-alpine eclogitization of Permian granitoids in the Sesia–Lanzo Zone, Western Alps, Italy. Chem. Geol. Isot. Geosci. 52, 165–184 (1985).
Zucali, M., Spalla, M. I. & Gosso, G. Strain partitioning and fabric evolution as a correlation tool: the example of the eclogitic micaschists complex in the Sesia–Lanzo Zone (Monte Mucrone–Monte Mars, Western Alps, Italy). Schweiz. Mineral. Petrogr. Mitteil. 82, 429–454 (2002).
Regis, D. et al. Multiple metamorphic stages within an eclogite-facies terrane (Sesia zone, Western Alps) revealed by Th–U–Pb petrochronology. J. Petrol. 55, 1429–1456 (2014).
Rubatto, D. et al. Yo-yo subduction recorded by accessory minerals in the Italian Western Alps. Nat. Geosci. 4, 338–342 (2011).
Hsü, K. J. Time and place in Alpine orogenesis—the Fermor Lecture. Geol. Soc. Spec. Publ. 45, 421–443 (1989).
Hunziker, J. C., Desmons, J. & Martinotti, G. Alpine thermal evolution in the central and the western Alps. Geol. Soc. Spec. Publ. 45, 353–367 (1989).
Torsvik, T. H. et al. Phanerozoic polar wander, palaeogeography and dynamics. Earth Sci. Rev. 114, 325–368 (2012).
van Hinsbergen, D. J. J. et al. Tectonic evolution and paleogeography of the Kirsehir Block and the Central Anatolian Ophiolites, Turkey. Tectonics 35, 983–1014 (2016).
Okay, A. I. & Şahintürk, Ö. in Regional and Petroleum Geology of the Black Sea and Surrounding Region (ed. Robinson, A. G.) 291–311 (American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1997); https://doi.org/10.1306/M68612C15
Schleiffarth, W. K., Darin, M. H., Reid, M. R. & Umhoefer, P. J. Dynamics of episodic Late Cretaceous–Cenozoic magmatism across Central to Eastern Anatolia: new insights from an extensive geochronology compilation. Geosphere 14, 1990–2008 (2018).
Agard, P., Omrani, J., Jolivet, L. & Mouthereau, F. Convergence history across Zagros (Iran): constraints from collisional and earlier deformation. Int. J. Earth Sci. 94, 401–419 (2005).
Okay, A. I., Zattin, M. & Cavazza, W. Apatite fission-track data for the Miocene Arabia–Eurasia collision. Geology 38, 35–38 (2010).
Rolland, Y. et al. Evidence for ~80–75 Ma subduction jump during Anatolide–Tauride–Armenian block accretion and ~48 Ma Arabia–Eurasia collision in Lesser Caucasus–East Anatolia. J. Geodyn. 56–57, 76–85 (2012).
Topuz, G., Candan, O., Zack, T. & Yılmaz, A. East Anatolian plateau constructed over a continental basement: no evidence for the East Anatolian accretionary complex. Geology 45, 791–794 (2017).
England, P. & Houseman, G. Extension during continental convergence, with application to the Tibetan Plateau. J. Geophys. Res. 94, 17561 (1989).
Uyeda, S. & Kanamori, H. Back-arc opening and the mode of subduction. J. Geophys. Res. 84, 1049 (1979).
Heuret, A. & Lallemand, S. Plate motions, slab dynamics and back-arc deformation. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 149, 31–51 (2005).
Göğüş, O. H. Rifting and subsidence following lithospheric removal in continental back arcs. Geology 43, 3–6 (2015).
Ryan, W. B. F. et al. Global multi-resolution topography synthesis. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 10, Q03014 (2009).
Göğüş, O. H. & Pysklywec, R. N. Near-surface diagnostics of dripping or delaminating lithosphere. J. Geophys. Res. 113, B11404 (2008).
Göğüş, O. H. Geodynamic experiments suggest that mantle plume caused Late Permian Emeishan Large Igneous Province in Southern China. Int. Geol. Rev. https://doi.org/10.1080/00206814.2020.1855602 (2020).
Memiş, C. et al. Long wavelength progressive plateau uplift in Eastern Anatolia since 20 Ma: implications for the role of slab peel‐Back and Break‐off. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 21, e2019GC008726 (2020).
Buiter, S. J. H. et al. The numerical sandbox: comparison of model results for a shortening and an extension experiment. Geol. Soc. Lond. Spec. Publ. 253, 29–64 (2006).
Buiter, S. J. H. et al. Benchmarking numerical models of brittle thrust wedges. J. Struct. Geol. 92, 140–177 (2016).
Chopra, P. N. & Paterson, M. S. The role of water in the deformation of dunite. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 89, 7861–7876 (1984).
Hirth, G. & Kohlstedt, D. L. Water in the oceanic upper mantle: implications for rheology, melt extraction and the evolution of the lithosphere. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 144, 93–108 (1996).
This research was enabled in part by support provided by SciNet and Compute Canada (www.computecanada.ca). A modified version of the SOPALE (2000) software was used to run numerical models. The SOPALE modelling code was originally developed by P. Fullsack at Dalhousie University with C. Beaumont and his Geodynamics group. We used Ö. F. Bodur’s script to plot the P–T–t paths. Funding for this research was provided by an NSERC Discovery Grant (RGPIN-2019-06803)-RNP and TÜBİTAK grant (114Y226) to G.T.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks Wim Spakman and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Stefan Lachowycz.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
The figure shows dimensions, geometry, materials, geotherm, Eulerian and Lagrangian grid dimensions, and convergence velocity direction. The upper left side of the model box is fixed. The imposed velocity, if present, is applied at the location of the blue arrow by introducing new oceanic lithosphere into the box. Orange arrows show evenly distributed outward flux to compensate inward flux. The red line on the right shows the change of geotherm with depth. The inset table lists experiment numbers according to microcontinent widths and convergence rates.
Supplementary Figs. 1–3, Table and Discussion.
Supplementary Video illustrates how the subduction pulley operates and yields pre-collisional microcontinent extension using the plots of the EXP-5. The video pauses briefly before the collision to highlight the pre-collisional microcontinent extension.
About this article
Cite this article
Gün, E., Pysklywec, R.N., Göğüş, O.H. et al. Pre-collisional extension of microcontinental terranes by a subduction pulley. Nat. Geosci. 14, 443–450 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00746-9