Back-arc extension has been well documented in subduction plate tectonic regimes. However, the reasons why back-arc extensions are associated with some subduction systems but not others have remained elusive. Here, spatio-temporal variations in the composition of Cenozoic basalts in the northeast Asian continental margin are used to constrain the mechanism for episodic back-arc extensions. Using geochemical data sensitive to tectonic affinity, we show that typical volcanic arc compositions are located in the eastern margin of northeast Asia, whereas coeval intraplate volcanic compositions are located in the western part of northeast Asia, and that the intraplate and arc volcanism exhibit two eastward shifts, from 52 Ma to 33 Ma and from 33 Ma to 21 Ma. Intraplate basalts dated at ca. 11 Ma display a weak, arc-like geochemical signature, which suggests that the upwelling of asthenospheric mantle resulted in the remelting of previously melt-extracted lithospheric mantle modified by slabderived fluids and the cessation of back-arc extensions. Thus, we propose that the eastward mantle flow resulted in eastward shifts of back-arc extensions that led to the development of extensive Cenozoic arc and intraplate volcanism in the northeast Asian continental margin.

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