Subduction erosion and arc volcanism

Abstract

Tectonic or subduction erosion refers to the removal of upper-plate material from the forearc at convergent margins. Subduction erosion has been suggested to represent a major process associated with the transfer of crustal material into the Earth’s mantle at subduction zones. However, few studies have attempted to trace the fate of eroded forearc crust beneath volcanic arcs, where the eroded crust might first emerge after mixing with the upper mantle, owing to the formidable challenge associated with quantifying the rate of subduction erosion and the contribution of eroded crust to arc magmas. In this Review, we summarize the evidence for subduction erosion at convergent margins and show that, through integration of geochemical and geological data in arc settings where critical crustal lithologies can be accessed, quantification of the contribution of eroded forearc crust to arc magmas is possible. We further emphasize the importance of establishing arc–forearc compositional links and illustrate the role of arc petrogenetic models for determining whether the eroded forearc crust contributes substantially (that is, greater than a few percent) to the construction of new arc crust in subduction zones or whether it is primarily exported to the deeper mantle.

Key points

  • Subduction zones recycle upper-plate crust by subduction erosion in volumes that can exceed those of the subducted trench sediments.

  • The composition of the eroded crust is varied and can include upper and lower continental crust, as well as oceanic crust.

  • Strong, compositional forearc–arc links exist.

  • Arc magma petrogenesis plays a key role in elucidating forearc–arc connectivity.

  • Tectonically eroded crust can refertilize shallow and deep mantle alike.

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Fig. 1: Subduction zone cartoon of erosive margin.
Fig. 2: Classification of margins as erosive or accretionary and comparison to arc εNd values.
Fig. 3: Geochemical variations of global arcs with details from the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.
Fig. 4: Arc and forearc compositional variations in the western Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.
Fig. 5: U–Pb dating of Malinche zircons.
Fig. 6: Major element vs isotopic systematics of global arc magmas.
Fig. 7: Isotopic systematics of global arc magmas.

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Acknowledgements

S.M.S. acknowledges support from National Science Foundation grants OCE 09-61359, EAR 12-20481 and EAR 19-21624, and a Kyoto University Visiting Fellowship. A.G.-T.’s studies were supported by Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT, Mexico) grant 239494.

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S.M.S. conceived and drafted the manuscript, which was revised and amended by P.V. and A.G.-T. P.V. provided updated rates of forearc erosion and sediment subduction (Supplementary Information). All authors contributed to the discussion.

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Correspondence to Susanne M. Straub.

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Nature Reviews Earth & Environment thanks A. Stracke, C. Stern, S. Kay and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work

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Supplementary information

Glossary

Subduction erosion

Tectonic removal of upper-plate material in subduction zones.

Forearc

Region between arc and trench.

Primary arc magmas

Mantle-wedge magmas prior to modification in the crustal basement.

Frontal accretion

Accretion of lower-plate material to the forearc.

Underplating

Accretion of lower-plate material to the base of the upper plate.

Frontal prism

An actively deforming wedge at the toe of the forearc.

Accretionary prism

Wedge-shaped body constructed mostly of sediment that has been scraped off the subducting plate.

Backstop

Point of coherent, resistive upper-plate rock framework closest to the trench.

Basal erosion

Tectonic removal of upper-plate material from the underside of the upper plate.

Subduction channel

Plate-boundary shear zone conveying material from the shallow part of the subduction zone towards the mantle.

Slab diapirs

Low-density material that buoyantly rises from the slab into the mantle wedge.

Slab partial melts

Partial melt released from subducted lithologies into the mantle wedge.

Hydrofracturing

Rock failure induced by overpressured fluids.

Frontal erosion

Tectonic removal of material from the frontal part of the forearc.

Arc crust production rate

Rate of arc crustal growth by addition of mantle-derived melts to arc crust per time increment, given in km3 per km of arc length per Myr, or km3/km/Myr, when normalized to the length of global arcs.

εNd

Deviation of 144Nd/143Nd from the CHondritic Uniform Reservoir (CHUR) ratio, calculated as εNd = [(144Nd/143Nd/0.51263) − 1] × 10,000.

Mg#

The molar ratio of Mg/(Mg + Fe2+) in magmas. Primary mantle melts usually have a Mg# ≥ 72.

Corner flow

Mantle-wedge flow towards the subducting slab induced by viscous coupling between the downgoing slab and overlying mantle wedge.

Slab fluids

Fluid expelled from subducting lithospheric plate into the mantle wedge.

Ambient mantle

Mantle wedge that is not affected by a slab component.

εHf

Deviation of 176Hf/177Hf from the CHondritic Uniform Reservoir (CHUR) ratio, calculated as εHf = [(176Hf/177Hf/0.282785) − 1] × 10,000.

Mélange diapirs

Slab diapirs rising from zones of the intensely sheared and mixed metamorphic sedimentary and igneous rocks at the interface between the subducted slab and the mantle.

Recharge mixing

Mixing of different magma batches incited by the ascent of new primary melt.

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Straub, S.M., Gómez-Tuena, A. & Vannucchi, P. Subduction erosion and arc volcanism. Nat Rev Earth Environ 1, 574–589 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-020-0095-1

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