Suprasubduction zone ophiolites are relics of oceanic upper plate forearcs and are typically preserved as discontinuous belts with discrete massifs along suture zones. Ophiolites usually contain an incomplete condensed section compared to average modern oceanic lithosphere. The incompleteness and discontinuity of ophiolites are frequently attributed to dismemberment, but tectonic causes remain poorly constrained. Here we show new paleomagnetic and field geological evidence for the preservation of extensional detachment faults that thinned and dismembered the south Tibetan ophiolite belt during the Early Cretaceous. Similar to those documented in modern slow- and ultraslow-spreading ridges, these detachments exhumed lithospheric mantle, and subophiolitic mélange, to the seafloor, which became unconformably covered by Asia-derived forearc strata. We call this mechanism forearc hyperextension, whereby widespread detachment faults accommodate upper plate extension above a subduction zone. We propose that hyperextension is the key mechanism responsible for dismemberment of the south Tibetan ophiolitic belt shortly after its magmatic accretion.

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