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Based on present knowledge of mantle peridotites from the Ligurian Tethys ophiolites, this paper presents new ideas and a new model for passive rifting to ocean spreading in the slow–ultraslow rifting Europe–Adria realm. Relevant points include: (i) the positive feedback between deformation and melt percolation during passive magmatic rifting; (ii) the positive feedback between natural evidence and experimental data on the behaviour of the mantle lithosphere during passive rifting; (iii) the significance of hidden magmatism and the associated melt thermal advection; (iv) the role of the wedge-shaped weakened and softened axial zone; and (v) the evidence of a transition from passive to active rifting in the Ligurian Tethys.

Passive rifting induced passive asthenospheric upwelling and the onset of partial melting. Fractional melts migrated through the mantle lithosphere and stagnated at shallow levels (the hidden magmatism). Melt thermal advection heated the mantle lithosphere to temperatures (T) of ≥1200°C and formed a wedge-shaped axial zone of rheological softened/weakened mantle peridotites that served as the future locus of continental break-up. The hotter/deeper asthenosphere ascended within this axial zone, underwent partial melting and formed aggregated mid-ocean ridge basalts (MORBs) that migrated within dunite channels to form olivine gabbro intrusions and basaltic lava flows. Rifting evolved from passive to active, and the actively upwelling asthenosphere established a ridge-type system and thermal regime.

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