Subduction evolution and mantle dynamics at a continental margin: Central North Island, New Zealand
Central North Island, New Zealand, provides an unusually complete geological and geophysical record of the onset and evolution of subduction at a continental margin. Whereas most subduction zones are innately two-dimensional, North Island of New Zealand displays a distinct three-dimensional character in the back-arc regions. Specifically, we observe “Mariana-type” subduction in the back-arc areas of central North Island in the sense of back-arc extension, high heat flow, prolific volcanism, geothermal activity, and active doming and exhumation of the solid surface. Evidence for emplacement of a significant percent of new lithosphere beneath the central North Island comes from heat flux of 25 MW/km of strike (of volcanic zone) and thinned crust underlain by rocks with a seismic wave speed consistent with underplated new crust. Seismic attenuation (Qp−1) is high (∼240), and rhyolitic and andesitic volcanism are widespread. Almost complete removal of mantle lithosphere is inferred here in Pliocene times on the basis of the rock uplift history and upper mantle seismic velocities as low as 7.4 ± 0.1 km/s. In contrast, southwestern North Island exhibits “Chilean-type” back-arc activity in the sense of compressive tectonics, reverse faulting, low-heat-flow, thickened lithosphere, and strong coupling between the subducted and overriding plates. This rapid switch from Mariana-type to Chilean-type subduction occurs despite the age of the subducted plate being constant under North Island. Moreover, stratigraphic evidence shows that processes that define the extensional back-arc area (the Central Volcanic Region) are advancing southward into the compressional system (Wanganui Basin) at about 10 mm/yr. We link the progression from one system to another to a gradual and viscous removal of thickened mantle lithosphere in the back-arc regions. Thickening occurred during the Miocene within the Taranaki Fault Zone. The process of thickening and convective removal is time- and temperature-dependent and has left an imprint in both the geological record and geophysical properties of central North Island, which we document and describe.