In retreating subduction systems, where the subduction rate is faster than the convergence rate between the upper and lower plates, the processes by which the upper plate crust is constructed have not been well understood. From our studies in the Hellenides, which formed above a retreating slab, we conclude that the external part of the Cenozoic Hellenide orogen was constructed from rocks derived from the subducting plate at least at two crustal levels. The upper crustal level within the external Hellenides consists of west-vergent thrust sheets emplaced progressively from east to west along a regional décollement from ca. 35 Ma to present. These thrust sheets consist of Mesozoic and Cenozoic strata that have been stripped from their underlying basement to form the Hellenides. The middle and lower crustal layer consists of slices of continental crust detached from the downgoing slab at depth and accreted below the upper crustal thrust sheets. These accreted slices represent ∼35% (or less) of the crust belonging to the subducting lithosphere; the remainder of the crust appears to be subducted with the slab. While the process of slab rollback may be continuous at depth, the episodic detachment of crustal slices guarantees that rollback is step-like in time at the crustal level. As the subducted lithosphere rolled back beneath the Hellenides, it passed progressively from east to west through the region occupied by present-day lower crust and mantle, where there is a well-defined Moho. Any irregularities that may have been present at the base of the accreted slabs have been smoothed by processes that remain to be determined.
Crustal development within a retreating subduction system: The Hellenides
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