• also termed convergent or consuming plate
• occur where adjacent plates move toward each
other and relative motion is accommodated by one
plate over-riding the other.
• These zones are classified as either oceanic or
subcontinental, depending on the overriding plate.
• If the "subducting" plate is continental, subduction
will cease and a mountain belt will form within a
Where do subduction zones occur?
• along the "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific
• Two short subduction zones occur at the Lesser
Antilles, at the eastern side of the Carribean plate
and the South Sandwich Island plate.
• Three short segments of the Alpine Himalayan
system involve subduction of oceanic lithosphere.
– the Calabrian and Aegean boundaries in the
– Makran boundary along the SW boundary of the Iran
• Outer Swell
• Outer Trench Wall
• Forearc (Arc-Trench Gap)
• Volcanic Arc
• Outer swell
– Low topographic bulge (a few hundred meters of relief)
– develops just outboard of where subducting plate bends
down into the mantle.
Outer Trench Wall
– Slope on ocean floor between the outer swell and the
– Slope dip is typically -5 degrees
– Deep valley that develops at the plate boundary.
– Continuous for 1000s of km
– typically 10 - 15 km deep (5 - 10 km below
surrounding ocean floor.)
Forearc (Arc-Trench Gap)
– Consists of region between trench and the arc.
– steep inner trench wall (lower trench slope)
• dips of - 10 deg
– flattens into a gentle slope termed the forearc
basin (upper trench slope).
– The inner trench wall is usually separated from
the forearc by the outer ridge.
– The accretionary prism underlies the inner
trench wall, the outer ridge and part of the
• Active arc built on a topographically high region
of older rocks, the arc basement
• may be a shallow marine platform or an emergent
region of older rocks.
• In continental arcs, the basement is continental
crust standing a few kms above sea level.
• Volcanoes in island arcs are usually 1 - 2 km
above sea level. Volcano elevation in continental
arcs is strongly influenced by continental crust
• Area behind the volcanic arc.
• In island arcs this region consists of basins
with oceanic crustal structure and abyssal
• Sometimes remnant arcs are preserved
behind the island arcs.
• On continents this region is the continental
platform which may be subaerially exposed,
or the site of a shallow marine basin.
• Typically, similar free-air gravity profiles
– 50 mGal gravity high associated with the outer bulge
– 200 mGal low associated with the trench and accretionary
– 200 mGal high associated with the arc.
• Isostatic anomalies have the same polarity as the
• Suggests that the gravity anomalies are caused by
the dynamic equilibrium imposed by the system by
• Compressional forces cause the trench to be deeper
and the arc to have less of a root than they would be
if only isostatic forces were at work.
Structure from Earthquakes
• Subduction zones are characterized by
dipping seismic zones termed Benioff zones
or Wadati-Benioff zones
• Result from deformation of the downgoing
lithospheric slab. The zones have dips
ranging from 40 to 60 deg
• Because, the slab is colder and more dense
than surrounding asthenosphere, it's position
can be mapped seismically as high velocity
anomalies and as high "Q" (little attenuation
of seismic waves) zones in the mantle. High
Q, and high velocity are thought to
correspond to relatively high density, cold
earthquake hypocenters related to
their position within the slab
• Shallow depths
• predominantly thrust faults within the upper part
of the downgoing plate or in the adjacent
• Down to depths of 400 km, down-dip extension.
– In some slabs, down-dip extension is found in the upper
part of the slab, accompanied by down-dip compression
at the base of the slab. The extension probably results
from the lithosphere being pulled into the mantle by the
weight of the downgoing portion.
• Deep slabs usually show down-dip compression
– may result from increased viscous resistance at depth.
– deeper part of the slab will feel a push from the weight
of the shallower portion of the slab.
• Between 70 - 300 km, faulting may occur due to
dehydration of serpentinite.
• From 300 - 700 krn may also be due to the sudden
phase change of olivine to spinel which may be
accommodated by rapid shearing of the crystal
lattice along planes on which minute spinel
crystals have grown.
Structural Geology- Trenches
• Trenches normally contain flat-lying
turbidites deposited by currents flowing
down into the trench from the overriding
plate or along the axis of the trench. The
outer swell is probably caused by elastic
bending of the subducting plate.
• may be underlain either by the accretionary prism
or arc basement rocks covered by a thin veneer of
sediments or both.
• Where there is little sediment accumulation on the
subducting plate, island arc or continental
basement may extend all the way to the lower
trench slope and little or no accretionary prism
• Forearc basement may draped by a thin veneer of
sediment, and is commonly cut by normal faults
toward the trench.
• wedge of deformed sedimentary rocks
• the main locus of crustal deformation
• Rocks are typically cut by numerous imbricate
thrust faults that dip in the same direction as the
• As more material is added to the toe of the wedge,
the thrusts are moved upwards and rotate
• Rocks within the accretionary prism are derived
from the downgoing and/or overriding plates.
• At the toe of the wedge, sediments are
added thru offscraping
• propagation of the basal thrust into
undeformed sediments on the subducting
• This process results in progressive widening
of the wedge, and eventually a decrease in
dip on the subduction zone.
• When sediments on the downgoing plate are
subducted without being disturbed they can
still be added to the prism thru underplating
• propagation of the basal thrust into the
downgoing undeformed sediments to form a
duplex beneath the main part of the prism.
• erosion and subsequent subduction of rocks
from the toe of the prism.
• Sediment on the subducting plate that is not
added to the overriding plate thru these
processes may descend into the mantle and
contribute to the generation of arc magmas.
• Wide sedimentary basin
– develops above irregular basement on the upper part of
the arc-trench gap.
– Sediments from the active arc or arc basement rocks
• deposited by turbidity currents traveling along the basin axis
or perpendicular to the arc.
• asymmetric basin
– inner part of the upper slope basin subsides
– outer edges rises due to accretion at the toe of the
• high-P, low-T metamorphism
– increases in grade toward the inner forearc region
– in the direction of subduction
• Arc basement
– older more deformed and metamorphosed rocks in
platform on which the modem arc is built.
– oceanic rocks
– On the continents, complex continental basement.
• Volcanic arc
– a chain of largely andesitic stratovolcanoes spaced at
fairly regular intervals of 70 km.
– The structural environment of these arcs is commonly
extensional (numerous normal faults)
– volcanoes in grabens termed volcanic depressions.
– underlain by large plutonic bodies (e. g. the Sierra
– common and suggest a high geothermal gradient.
– Much of the lower crust may be at the melting
temperature of granite.
– debris from active volcanoes.
– deposited as turbidites.
– In tropics, settings these volcanogenic sediments may
interfinger with carbonate reefs.
– In continental arcs, sediments are often deposited
• extensional tectonics and subsidence.
• In oceans arc-derived sediments are
deposited in an ocean basin behind the arc
termed the back-arc basin.
• In continents, sediments are deposited into
basins on the continental platform and are
termed foreland basins or retro-arc basins.
Foreland Fold and Thrust Belts
• Relation between foreland fold and thrust belts
and subduction not understood
• not all continental arcs display these features.
• Possible explanations if there is a relation
– Thrust belt caused by compression at margin of
overriding plate due to subduction of hot, buoyant
– Thrust belt associated with shallow dip of a downgoing
– Thrust belt associated with subduction of an aseismic
Models of thermal processes in
• Rate of Subduction
– The faster the descent of the slab, the less time it has to
absorb heat from the mantle.
• Slab Thickness
– The thicker the descending slab, the more time it takes
to come into equilibrium with the surrounding
• Frictional Heating
– occurs at top of slab due to friction as slab descends
and is resisted by the lithosphere.
– heat into slab from the asthenosphere
• Adiabatic Heating
– associated with compression of slab with increased
pressure at depth.
• Heat of Radioactive Decay
– decay of radioactive minerals in the oceanic crust (minor)
• Latent Heat of Mineral Phase Transitions
– olivine-spinel transition at 400 km is exothermic. Spinel-
oxide transition at 670 km could be either exothermic or
• All thermal models show that the
downgoing slab maintains its thermal
identity to great depths (e. g. contrasts of
700 deg C can still exist at 700 krn depth).
If the slab is so cold, how do we get
enough heating to cause arc magmatism?
• Melting of Slab in Presence of Water
– Partial melting may take place at lower temperatures
due to presence of water as slab dehydrates. Water is
released by transition of amphibolite to ecologite, and
dehydration of serpentinite at depths of - 100 km.
• Corner Flow and Melting of Mantle
– Downgoing slab may cause flow of hot mantle into the
comer of the overriding mantle where it impinges on
the downgoing slab. This may provide enough heat to
Origins of back-arc basins
• Entrapment of previous oceanic crust
– Change of plate motion may lead to abandonment of a
fragment of oceanic crust behind the arc. (e.g.,
Aleutian Basin and West Philippines Basin )
• Formation of new crust - behind the arc. 3 models
o Spreading caused by forceable injection of a diapir
rising from the downgoing slab.
o Spreading induced in the overriding plate by the
viscous drag in the mantle wedge caused by the motion
of the downgoing plate (comer flow).
o Spreading induced by the relative drift of the
overriding plate away from the downgoing slab (slab
fixed with respect to mantle). This is also termed roll-