The development of laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry has revolutionized the analysis of tephras by providing (1) an efficient and precise method for determining abundances of a wide variety of trace elements at low concentrations in individual glass shards and (2) assessment of geochemical heterogeneities within individual ash horizons. This development is important for petrogenetic studies of intraoceanic arc systems, where tephras provide the most complete temporal record of magmatism. Results from the Izu-Bonin and Mariana arc systems indicate that despite close geographical proximity and similar tectonic evolution, they contrast strongly in terms of geochemical evolution since 35 Ma. Whereas the Mariana tephras have exceptional compositional diversity, ranging from low-K (Oligocene), to high-K (Miocene), and subsequently medium-K compositions (Pliocene-Quaternary), the Izu-Bonin arc has been dominated by low-K compositions throughout. The Mariana increases in K are paralleled by increases in abundances of incompatible trace elements and by increased values of diagnostic ratios (e.g., Nb/yb and Th/yb) regarded as monitors of potential mantle-source fertility. The relative uniformity of Nb/yb and Nb/Zr ratios in Izu-Bonin tephras indicates that cyclic processes of backarc basin development and mantle depletion do not necessarily induce large-scale temporal geochemical variations in the associated arc. Temporal variability within the Mariana arc, and its divergence from the Izu-Bonin arc ca. 13 Ma, can be traced to a major injection of subducted sediment in the Mariana system at this time.

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