Retreating subduction boundaries, formed where the rate of subduction exceeds the rate of overall plate convergence, appear to be commonly developed features within regions of early or incomplete continent‐continent collision. They are characterized by regional extension within the overriding plate and, at their leading edge, by thin‐skinned arcuate thrust belts that are concave towards the overriding plate. As is illustrated by examples from the Mediterranean region, the formation of retreating subduction boundaries is intimately related to the process of continental collision. During the early stages of collision, retreating subduction boundaries are commonly formed by lateral ejection from zones of crustal shortening along the main collision boundary. Retreating plate boundaries can also form before the main collision, and the associated thrust belts emplaced as precollisional accretionary assemblages. Because the driving mechanism for retreating subduction boundaries appears to be gravity acting on a dense subducted slab (slab pull), subduction usually ceases when, and only when, thick buoyant continental crust enters the subduction zone. Thus differences in the evolution and duration of retreating subduction systems can be largely attributed to the size and configuration of the deep water regions available to be subducted. In some cases, retreating subduction boundaries may “escape” into the open ocean, where they form nearly isolated, local tectonic systems. In these systems the rate of subduction is approximately compensated by the rate of upper plate extension, and migration of the system across the oceanic region may be very rapid. For example, the Horseshoe Seamounts, located about 800 km offshore in the eastern North Atlantic, may be the active expression of an east dipping, westwardly migrating retreating subduction boundary that has evolved from the Betic Cordillera‐Rif system active in Miocene time and may now be progressing across the Atlantic at approximately 50 mm/yr. An analogous situation may be represented by the Scotia Arc system, a westward dipping retreating subduction system located between the South American and Antarctic plates, which may have “escaped” into the South Atlantic ocean from a zone of crustal shortening in the Andes and is now progressing across the Atlantic at a rate of about 80 mm/yr.
Tectonics – Wiley
Published: Jun 1, 1993
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