Since the acceptance of plate tectonics, the presence of calc-alkaline magmatic rocks has been recognized as evidence of subduction. But under specific geodynamic circumstances, subduction may occur without generating magmas. Here, we investigate the Cenozoic northern Lesser Antilles arc where, from sparsely exposed magmatic records, Eocene–Oligocene and Pliocene magmatic flare-ups and a Miocene lull were postulated. Nevertheless, most of the arc is submarine, so it is challenging to discern lulls and flare-ups from sampling bias. We review the magmatic evidence exposed onshore in the Lesser Antilles and investigate in detail the island of Antigua, which exposes an Eocene to Miocene volcanic sequence and platform carbonate series that coincide with the postulated lull. By combining lithostratigraphic analysis, structural mapping, 40Ar/39Ar geochronology, and biostratigraphy, we refine the magmatic history of the island and date the arrest of extensive arc magmatism at 35 Ma, with minor activity until 27 Ma. No magmatic products are interleaved with the platform sequence until the latest Oligocene, which confirms a lull in northern Lesser Antilles arc magmatism that may have lasted ca. 20 Ma. Flare-up of magmatic activity contributed to crustal thickening and land emersion, whereas magmatic lulls and related thermal cooling induced subsidence/submersion. Thus, we propose that the paleo-(bio)-geographical evolution of the eastern Caribbean region has been partly controlled by magmatic activity.
Fault kinematic analysis, along with anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility, suggest that, at the island scale, magmatic arrest is not associated with a change in stress field during the Oligocene. We speculate that slab flattening triggered by progressive curvature played a role in the temporal shutdown of the northern Lesser Antilles arc.