Oblique aseismic subduction below western Panama and southeastern Costa Rica has produced Recent arc-related volcanism. The aseismicity is probably related to the subduction of relatively hot oceanic lithosphere. The volcanism throughout this region over the past 2 Ma has been quite distinct, consisting of felsic magmas (andesites to rhyolites but mainly dacites) with geochemical signatures suggesting a metamorphosed basaltic source. It is believed that the subduction of young oceanic crust sets up conditions under which the slab melts rather than the overlying mantle wedge. Rocks with slab-melt geochemistries and associated with young subducted crust have been termed adakites elsewhere. The young adakite melts are sometimes associated with a few rare young high-Nb basalts, but there is no obvious genetic link between them through differentiation. High-Nb basalts may also be derived from the partial melting of the subducted oceanic crust. High-Nb basalt migmatites have been found with pegmatites of adakite compositions in the exposed subduction terrain of the Catalina Schist, California. Alternatively, the high-Nb basalts may be partial melts of phlogopite-rich mantle that has previously reacted with adakite magmas.

Eruption of adakites and high-Nb basalts was preceded by a 2-3 Ma period of relative quiescence. Prior to this, there was a 7 Ma period of calc-alkaline volcanism typical of the present-day magmatism (associated with a distinct Benioff zone) found throughout the Central American arc. The abrupt transition in volcanism with time from an early calc-alkaline sequence to a later adakite-high-Nb basalt sequence may record a change in the tectonic setting of western Panama and southeastern Costa Rica over the past 12 Ma.

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