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This review of Mediterranean geodynamics highlights that the Mediterranean region captures at a fortuitous moment in time, a picture of the fate of foundering, old, cold oceanic lithosphere of limited area due to being landlocked in an all-but-stalled continental collision (Africa with Europe). We synthesize the geological spatial and temporal data for stretched crust as well as the 3D distribution of old abyssal plains and new oceanic lithosphere segments in concert with heat flow, palaeomagnetic data, geodetic velocity data, earthquake hypocentre distributions and seismic tomography. We use three Mediterranean subduction system settings (the western Mediterranean, the Hellenic and the Pannonian–Carpathian) that nicely reflect the slab instability and retreat. We assume that mantle slab dynamics best explains the observations. The dispersal and segmentation of the foundering landlocked ocean results in a series of discontinuous subduction zones whose individual lengths gradually diminish while retreat accelerates as slab progressively narrow and tear (i.e. along-strike laterally-propagating slab break-off) due to imminent total consumption of available oceanic lithosphere. We suggest that the Mediterranean region offers a lucid series of snapshots of accelerated slab retreat that, additionally, is globally unique as the only present day example of what we term intra-collisional landlocked ocean subduction.

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