The Esk Head subterrane is a continuous belt, generally 10-20 km wide, of tectonic mélange and broken formation on the South Island of New Zealand. This subterrane separates older and younger parts of the Torlesse terrane which is an extensive accretionary prism composed mostly of quartzo-feldspathic, submarine-fan deposits ranging from Permian to Early Cretaceous in age. The Torlesse is the most Pacific-ward of several Permian and Mesozoic accreted terranes in New Zealand that record tectonic amalgamation and ultimate accretion against the Pacific-facing Gondwana margin. The Esk Head subterrane of the Torlesse is especially informative because it includes within it conspicuous tectonic blocks of submarine basalt and a variety of basalt-associated seamount and sea-floor limestones and cherty rocks thought to be representative of the subducted plate. Limestones in tectonic blocks are of Late Triassic and probably Jurassic ages and include (1) submarine-cemented, pelagic-bivalve, geopetal packstone-grainstone; (2) brachiopod-bryozoan encrinite; and (3) radiolarian, pelagic lime mudstone. Most of the Triassic blocks have been dated using conodonts which have remarkably low color alteration index (CAI) values (<1.5). An incomplete sampling of cherts in tectonic blocks and from Holocene gravels derived from the Esk Head subterrane yields radiolarian-based ages of Late Triassic, Early Jurassic, Middle Jurassic, and Late Jurassic.

Paleogeographic inferences drawn from megafossils, bioclasts, and radiolarians, as well as from carbonate cements, indicate deposition of the oceanic sedimentary rocks at paleolatitudes somewhat lower than that of the New Zealand part of the Gondwana margin, but higher than paleoequatorial latitudes. These oceanic sediments and their basaltic substrates were evidently emplaced in the Torlesse accretionary prism following off-scraping from an extensive subducting oceanic plate, probably the Phoenix plate, which was obliquely convergent with the northwest-trending Gondwana margin during Late Jurassic and/or Early Cretaceous time.

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