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Abstract

The evolution of the southern Tyrrhenian subduction has been possibly controlled by distinct episodes of slab break-off as indicated by a critical review of the geological literature and by the analysis of purposely acquired multichannel seismic profiles. Within the proposed interpretation the first episode occurred from 8.5 to 4.0 Ma and affected the segment of the slab located in the Sardinia Channel, causing the abandonment of the Adventure thrust front in western Sicily. The second episode occurred between 2.5 and 1.6 Ma, affecting the segment of slab located north of Sicily, and was preceeded by rifting in the Strait of Sicily. The space and time location of these episodes appear controlled by discontinuities pre-existing within the subducted African plate that trend at high angle to the advancing subduction front. These discontinuities delimit segment of subducted slab that can be affected by slab break-off and can act as wayouts for magma and mantle derived He. The major of these discontinuities, the Malta Escarpment, has been reactivated in the Quaternary as a trench-perpendicular tear (STEP faults). Ultimately, the hierarchy in strength of these trench-perpendicular features could have affected the timing and amount of trench retreat and backarc opening.

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