Back-arc rifting at a continental margin: A case study from the Okinawa trough
Friday, 19 December 2014
The Okinawa trough, a back-arc basin formed behind the Ryukyu arc-trench system, southwest Japan, represents an active rifting zone associated with extension of the continental lithosphere. The basin is located at the southeastern margin of the Eurasian plate and characterized by axial rift valleys with over 1.0 km depth and ~100 km width. Previous studies suggest that the early rifting phase started late Miocene and crustal extension is currently active at a full rate of 30 to 50 mm/yr. Within the basin, numerous active hydrothermal vents are observed, suggesting that the crustal rifting enhances melt/heat transfer from the deep mantle up to the seafloor. However, internal structure beneath the back-arc basin and its relation to the rifting system are little documented. Complex regional tectonic setting, such as active collision in Taiwan to the west, oblique subduction of the Philippine Sea slab, and changing spreading rate along the rift axis, may also have significant influences on the thermal structure and flow within the mantle wedge, but their relative roles in controlling the rifting mode and magmatic supply are still poorly understood. As a step toward filling this gap in knowledge, we started a new 7-year project that consists of four two-dimensional active-source seismic experiments and extensive passive-source seismic observations along the Ryukyu arc. In 2013, active-source seismic data were collected on the first line that crosses the southernmost part of the Ryukyu arc-trench and Okinawa trough at 124-125°E. For refraction/wide-angle reflection analyses, a total of 60 ocean bottom seismographs were deployed with approximately 6 km spacing on a ~390-km-long profile. On the same line, multichannel seismic (MCS) reflection profiling was also carried out. Seismic velocity models obtained by first arrival tomography show that beneath the volcanic arc a thick layer (~10 km) of the middle crust with Vp = 6.0-6.8 km/s is developed, a typical feature in the major volcanic arc in the circum-Pacific region, but such thick layers are not observed beneath the Okinawa trough. Correspondingly, crustal thickness significantly varies: Crust thins from over 20 km beneath the volcanic arc to ~15 km beneath the back-arc basin.