We investigated the continent-ocean transition (COT) structure of three main marginal seas in the western Pacific Ocean (South China Sea, Coral Sea, and Woodlark Basin) to determine the tectono-magmatic processes acting during continental breakup. The COT formed from the activity of a low-angle normal fault system localizing deformation during final rifting. Extension was contemporaneous with magmatic activity, including volcanic edifices, dikes, and sills in the distalmost parts of these basins. The COT shows a sharp juxtaposition in space and time of continental crust against igneous oceanic crust, and its overall structure differs from that of magma-poor or magma-rich passive-margin archetypes. We propose that this mode of breakup is characteristic of marginal seas due to the high extension rates imposed by kinematic forces of nearby subduction zones. Revealed in the context of marginal seas, this mode of breakup and the resulting COT structures highlight the underestimated diversity of continental breakup mechanisms.

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