Abstract

Offshore observations at modern ocean-margin subduction zones (OMSZs) reveal that bodies of accreted material are commonly volumetrically small or missing, that crustal thinning and subsidence (3–5 km) has occurred, and that most trench axes lie close (5–30 km) to the seaward tapering edge of coastal basement rock. Onshore mapping commonly documents missing or only narrow terranes of former forearc rock and the inboard migration of the arc magmatic front. These observations are evidence that subduction is accompanied by the removal of sediment and crustal material from the submerged forearc by the kindred tectonic processes, respectively, of sediment subduction and subduction erosion. Subduction erosion truncates the margin (migrates the trench inboard) at ∼2.5 km/Ma. Onshore observations at ancient crust-suturing subduction zones (CSSZs) imply that collisional suturing is accompanied by sediment subduction and truncation of both upper and lower plates. During a protracted period of suturing (20–50 million years), a 100–200 km wide (or wider) band of the seaward edge of each plate can be removed subductively. Truncation of the upper plate is effected by subduction erosion, and that of the lower plate by the necking and break-off of its subducted edge. The average linear rate of crustal loss for each plate is estimated at ∼1.5 km/Ma, or ∼3 km/Ma combined. Because significant crustal loss occurs before and during tectonic fusing of colliding crustal blocks, structures and rock bodies that might be expected to record a former OMSZ and the formation of a CSSZ may be absent, unimpressively small, or preserved only as exhumed masses of once deeply subducted material.

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