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Back Arc Extension in the Okinawa Trough

Abstract : The Okinawa Trough, lying to the east of China, is a back arc basin formed by extension within continental lithosphere behind the Ryukyu trench‐arc system. Middle to late Miocene uplift, associated with normal faulting of the initially adjacent Ryukyu nonvolcanic arc and the Taiwan‐Sinzi folded belt, corresponds to the first rifting phase. The timing of rifting is supported by the presence of marine sediments of corresponding age drilled in the northern Okinawa Trough. The rifting occurred after a major early Miocene change in the motion of the Philippine plate with respect to Eurasia and ceased during the Pliocene. A second rifting phase started about 2 m.y. ago, at the Plio‐Pleistocene boundary and has continued until the present time. It has proceeded to a more advanced stage in the middle and southern Okinawa Trough than it has farther north. Detailed bathymetric (Sea Beam), seismic reflection, and magnetics data collected during the POP 1 cruise of the R/V Jean Charcot reveal the principal features of the extensional processes. The back arc spreading phase started very recently in the southern and middle Okinawa Trough, as exemplified by several en échelon and, in some cases, overlapping active, central graben oriented N70°E–N80°E. Some of these depressions are intruded by volcanic ridges of fresh back arc basalt with associated large magnetic anomalies. Transform faults between these en échelon active rifts are not obvious. We suggest that the major part of the southern Okinawa Trough is underlain by a thinned continental crust and that except for the system of en échelon rifts of the southern Okinawa Trough, the back arc basin oceanic domain is limited to a width of a few tens of kilometers or less in the axial portion of the trough. The system of axial back arc volcanic ridges that occur in the rifts ends at the latitude of Okinawa Island whereas active volcanoes in the Ryukyu arc occur only north of Okinawa Island. We refer to this transition between active arc and back arc volcanism as the volcanic arc‐rift migration phenomenon (VAMP). Globally, back arc volcanism propagated from the southern Okinawa Trough to the Okinawa VAMP area. Rifting continues to occur in the northern Okinawa Trough but is not yet accompanied by associated volcanism. The Okinawa VAMP area is characterized by a series of parallel basaltic ridges oriented N75°E with associated linear magnetic anomalies characteristic of dyke intrusions. We suggest that the formation of the back arc oceanic domain took place along the axial back arc extensional zone trending N75°E and that this zone presently ends at the southern extremity of the active volcanic chain. The initial phase of formation of back arc basin oceanic crust is non‐steady state and is characterized by the lack of a developed fracture zone pattern. The termination of the VAMP area in the direction of the volcanic zone of the arc is consistent with the suggestion of Molnar and Atwater that the volcanic arc is a fundamental line of weakness which determines where initial back arc spreading occurs. Apparently, back arc extension initially occurred within the continental lithosphere located westward of the Ryukyu arc, along its whole length, but the subsequent back arc volcanism was initiated in the southernmost portion of the region and then moved northward. This migration was accompanied by the shutting down of volcanic activity along the abandoned portions of the arc. It is this transfer of volcanism that we call the VAMP process. Thus arc and back arc basin volcanism seem to be associated in such a manner that spreading tends to migrate simultaneously with a cessation in volcanic activity along the arc. This interplay of arc and back arc activity is probably linked to changes in the parameters of plate convergence. Since the plate motion in the Phillippine sea is oblique to the trench at least in the southern part of the Okinawa Trough, we suggest that the oblique resisting force applied to the edge of the overriding plate engenders the development of en échelon extensional features within and behind the arc. The motion of the Ryukyu platelet with respect to Eurasia is consequently an extensional strike‐slip motion trending roughly parallel to the Okinawa Trough.
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Jean-Claude Sibuet, Jean Letouzey, Florence Barbier, Jacques Charvet, Jean Paul Foucher, et al.. Back Arc Extension in the Okinawa Trough. Journal of Geophysical Research : Solid Earth, American Geophysical Union, 1987, 92 (B13), pp.14041-14063. ⟨10.1029/JB092iB13p14041⟩. ⟨insu-03124968⟩

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