The mechanisms of lithospheric thinning and craton destruction have been hotly debated in the last decades. The Early Cretaceous Jiaodong and Liaodong extensional provinces (JEP and LEP, respectively) of the eastern North China craton are typical areas where the cratonic Archean lithosphere has been intensely extended and thinned. Various extensional structures, e.g., metamorphic core complexes (MCCs), low-angle detachment faults, and extensional basins, characterize the Early Cretaceous crustal deformation of the two provinces. However, profound differences exist in structural development and related magmatic activities between the two provinces. Distributed small-scale extensional basins were formed in association with exhumation of the Liaonan and Wanfu MCCs in the LEP, whereas the major Jiaolai Basin was developed coevally with exhumation of the Wulian, Queshan, and Linglong MCCs in the JEP. Sr-Nd isotope compositions of volcanic rocks from the basins of the two provinces are compatible with syntectonic magmatic activities of evolving magma sources in the LEP, but multiple and hybrid magma sources in the JEP.

It is shown, from variations in structural styles, plutonic and volcanic activities, and thermal evolution of the two extensional provinces, that two stages (ca. 135−120 Ma and 120−100 Ma) of tectonic extension affected the JEP and LEP in the Early Cretaceous. We demonstrate that regional tectonic extension (parallel extension tectonics, or PET) is responsible for the formation of major extensional structures and the occurrence of the magmatic associations. Progressive wide rifting by coupled crust-mantle detachment faulting of a hot LEP lithosphere was accompanied by evolving magma sources from dominant ancient crust and enriched mantle to juvenile crust. Two stages of narrow rifting of a cold JEP lithosphere led to early crustal detachment faulting transitioning to late crust-mantle faulting, which resulted in intense magmatic activity from hybrid to multiple magma sources. These processes contributed to destruction of the craton, with thinning of its lithospheric keel and local transformation of the nature of the lithospheric mantle. It is expected that such a model is also applicable to interpretation of tectonic extension of contiguous areas of the North China craton and the remobilization of other cratons.

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