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Lithosphere erosion and crustal growth in subduction zones:

Insights from initiation of the nascent East Philippine Arc

Colin G. Macpherson*
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

The Philippine Trench marks a nascent plate margin where subduction initiation is propa-
gating from north to south. Magma compositions in the East Philippine Arc record thinning of
arc lithosphere as it is eroded from below. Lithosphere is thicker beneath the younger, south-
ern part of the arc, causing basaltic magma to stall and fractionate garnet at high pressure. In
the mature, northern section, basaltic magma differentiates at shallower levels, at pressures
where garnet is not stable. Local variations in lithosphere thickness suggest that thinning is
rapid and may be piecemeal. Fluctuations in arc lithosphere thickness throughout the history
of this margin appear to control spatial and temporal variations in magma fluxes into the arc
crust. Varying fractionation depths of hydrous basalt may help to explain the andesitic com-
position of bulk continental crust.

Keywords: subduction initiation, arc lithosphere erosion, crust growth, adakitic magmatism,
high-Mg# andesite.

INTRODUCTION for the processes involved are difficult because west. All Surigao magmatism was produced
Subduction provides a key driving force much of the geology in fossilized nascent mar- by differentiation of hydrous basaltic melt that
for plate tectonics, produces the most extreme gins has been obscured by subsequent plate originated in the mantle wedge. In Mindanao,
material differentiation in the solid part of motions and volcanism. isotopic data demonstrate that adakitic chem-
Earth today, and is believed to have played an The Philippine Trench marks a nascent plate istry, which is often attributed to slab melting
important role in generating the continents. margin produced by induced subduction initia- (Defant and Drummond, 1990), is a conse-
While there are numerous studies of mature tion (Cardwell et al., 1980; Hall, 1987). It has quence of differentiation—either crystallization
systems, examination of subduction initiation propagated southward since the middle-late of basaltic melt or remelting of basaltic rock—at
is inhibited by the paucity of suitable exam- Miocene, trailing in its wake the East Philip- depth in the presence of garnet (Dreher et al.,
ples. Studies that do exist focus mainly on pine Arc. This study examines the geochemi- 2005; Macpherson et al., 2006). Following early
fossilized nascent margins and have been used cal record of lithosphere maturation carried adakitic magmatism (Ozawa et al., 2004), recent
to classify two initiation mechanisms (Stern, by East Philippine Arc magmatism and the magmatism in the north East Philippine Arc is
2004). Induced initiation occurs where con- consequent implications for (1) the geochemis- dominantly medium-K, calc-alkaline basal-
vergent motion forces one piece of (proto-arc) try of arc magmatism, and (2) development of tic andesite to rhyolite (Castillo and Newhall,
lithosphere to override another (the protoslab). continental crust. 2004; Andal et al., 2005; McDermott et al., 2005;
Spontaneous initiation results from foundering Du Frane et al., 2006).
of the protoslab prior to onset of convergent MAGMATIC DIFFERENTIATION IN
motion. During the Cenozoic, induced initiation THE EAST PHILIPPINE ARC LITHOSPHERIC THINNING
appears to have been more common than spon- The Philippine Sea plate subducts westward IN A NASCENT ARC
taneous events, yet the latter have a higher prob- at the Philippine Trench between 18°N and In most island arcs, low-pressure crystal
ability of leaving a geological record (Stern, 2°N (Fig. 1A). The trench is currently propa- assemblages dominate the chemical evolution
2004). Therefore, direct observations of the gating southward, and its tip located northeast of magma. This can be observed in ratios of
rocks produced by young arcs are biased toward of Halmahera (Hall, 1987). This is consistent middle to heavy rare earth elements (REE, e.g.,
spontaneous subduction initiation. with southward decreases in the ages of (1) Dy/Yb), which remain stable or, more com-
The scarce and valuable insights available initial East Philippine Arc magmatism (Ozawa monly, decrease as differentiation proceeds
from real margins have been complemented by et al., 2004), and (2) initial movement on the because distribution coefficients (Kd) are greater
increasingly sophisticated numerical models Philippine fault, which partitions oblique com- for middle than for heavy rare earth elements
of where and how initiation occurs. One of the pression across the margin (Barrier et al., 1991; (Kd MREE > Kd HREE), suggesting little or no role
clearest predictions of most subduction initia- Quebral et al., 1996). for garnet (Davidson et al., 2007). This scenario
tion models is large-scale, and possibly rapid, The most southerly East Philippine Arc activ- applies for the present north East Philippine Arc
thinning of the overriding plate during the ear- ity of any significant volume is Pliocene to Qua- and for central and east Surigao (Fig. 2A). In
liest stages of subduction (Andrews and Sleep, ternary magmatism in Surigao, NE Mindanao contrast, Dy/Yb correlates positively with SiO2
1974; Hall et al., 2003; Gurnis et al., 2004; (Fig. 1A). Magmatism occurred in and around in adakitic rocks from west Surigao (Fig. 2A)
Arcay et al., 2006) to produce mature margins a graben or half-graben structure that has a due to garnet fractionation, which results in
in which arc lithosphere consists largely of crust sharp west margin against the Philippine fault Kd MREE < Kd HREE (Macpherson et al., 2006).
(Rowland and Davies, 1999). This prediction is (Macpherson et al., 2006). Pliocene lavas with Garnet crystallizes from hydrous basaltic magma
hard to test and determinations of time scales typical arc geochemistry are found in the center at pressures greater than 1.2 GPa or ~35 km
and east of the peninsula. These are succeeded depth (Müntener et al., 2001). This is signifi-
*E-mail: by adakitic and high-Mg# andesitic rocks in the cantly greater than the 25 km Moho depth deter-

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Geology, April
April 2008
2008; v. 36; no. 4; p. 311–314; doi: 10.1130/G24412A.1; 3 figures. 311
Luzon 3.5

A Pre-arc B 40%

Mayon Sea plate Proto- 3.0

Bicol slab

pi ne
{ Bulusan
Arc lithosphere 20%






Surigao 2.0 60%

Mindanao B fault 60%
0 100 200 300
120°E 125°E
Surigao: East Central West
North EPA: Iriga Mayon Bulusan
Immature arc Mature arc 1.0
Trench Trench
45 50 55 60 65 70 75
Moho Moho SiO2 (wt%)
Arc Arc
Slab 20 km 30 40 50 60 70 80 km
lithosphere lithosphere dehydrates 0.15
dehydrates Basalt B
Basalt crystallizes 0.10
Mantle no garnet
Mantle g crystallizes
tin wedge

no garnet Garnet-bearing
wedge el Basalt el cumulates 0.05
M crystallizes M Cumulates
Slab garnet Slab delaminate
C Mantle
D Mantle

Figure 1. A: East Philippine Arc (EPA) showing location of volcanic centers discussed.
Circled letters refer to schematic cross-arc sections in panels B–D, which illustrate thinning
of East Philippine Arc lithosphere and its role in determining differentiation depth in nascent, 2.5 3.0 3.5 4.0 4.5 5.0
induced subduction zone. B: Pre-arc: subduction of Philippine Sea plate has begun beneath Na6.0
amalgamated proto-arc lithosphere but magmatism has not. C: Immature arc: upwelling of
basaltic magma is impeded by lithospheric mantle, and so differentiation occurs beneath Figure 2. A: Dy/Yb versus SiO2 for East
Moho, generating garnet-rich cumulates (gray). D: Mature arc: erosion of lithospheric Philippine Arc (EPA) lavas (data sources in
mantle leads to basalt differentiation at shallower levels (black) with garnet-free assemblage. text). Correlations with SiO2 indicate that
Earlier-formed, garnet-bearing cumulates may return to mantle via lithosphere erosion as differentiation is primary control on Dy/Yb,
mantle flow develops and mantle lithosphere is eroded. which increases when garnet crystallizes
and decreases when garnet is absent. Differ-
entiation models (showing % crystallization)
are from Davidson et al. (2007). gt—garnet;
mined for Surigao from gravity data (Dimalanta Major-element systematics are consistent with ol—olivine; pl—plagioclase; cpx—clino-
and Yumul, 2003). Contrasting MREE/HREE a role for sub-Moho and/or garnet-present dif- pyroxene; am—amphibole B: Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2
ratios between adakitic and typical arc suites in ferentiation in young, southern East Philippine (plotted with 2SE uncertainty) is a proxy for
mean differentiation depth of each suite
other locations have also been used to suggest Arc magmatism. Western Surigao rocks possess and is determined from linear regression
that both types are produced by fractionation of high-Mg# values relative to their SiO2 values. of slopes in panel A. This is compared with
wet basalt at different depths (Chiaradia et al., Garnet pyroxenites from the Sierra Nevada, Na6.0 , which Plank and Langmuir (1988)
2004; Rodriguez et al., 2007). which represent possible deep-arc cumulates, showed to be a proxy for crustal thickness,
as illustrated on top axis, using 21 arcs
There is too much uncertainty in partition possess relatively low-Mg# values with respect worldwide. Uncertainty for Na6.0 is 95% con-
coefficients and the chemistry of potentially to SiO2 and so could drive residual melt to high fidence limit on regression of Na2O versus
fractionating phases to use them directly to Mg# at high SiO2 (Fig. 3). Furthermore, differ- MgO to 6 wt% MgO.
quantify absolute differentiation depths in the entiated, silicic magma produced beneath the
East Philippine Arc, but relative differentiation Moho may acquire high Mg# as it interacts with
depths can be determined from the gradient peridotite during transport toward the surface thin during the Pliocene for differentiation to
of Dy/Yb versus SiO2; Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2. This (Rapp et al., 1999). Rocks from central and east produce magma with moderate Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2
represents the contrast between bulk distribu- Surigao also display elevated Mg# but to a lesser but high Mg#. High-Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2, Pleisto-
tion coefficients for MREE and HREE dur- extent than their western equivalents. cene, adakitic magmatism in the west records
ing differentiation. Positive values represent Together, the trace- and major-element varia- the earliest stages in development of this thin-
a greater role for deep (garnet-present) differ- tions suggest that basaltic melt was more likely spot toward the back arc, as predicted by numer-
entiation, while negative values reflect shallow to stall at deeper levels when the arc lithosphere ical models (Arcay et al., 2006).
(garnet-absent) differentiation. This approach was immature but that basaltic melts can more Figure 1 outlines a model for progression
requires the solid assemblage to have remained readily reach the crust as the arc lithosphere from deep- to shallow-level differentiation in
constant within each suite, but this is a rea- matures. In the south East Philippine Arc, where the nascent East Philippine Arc. In south Min-
sonable assumption in view of the coher- the arc is youngest, the evidence for deep dif- danao, the proto-arc lithosphere is composed
ence of the data for each suite (Fig. 2A). The ferentiation is strongest. In the longer-lived of accreted ophiolitic and older arc terranes
East Philippine Arc data show a decrease in north East Philippine Arc, however, widespread, (Quebral et al., 1996). The Philippine Trench is
Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2 from (1) west Surigao to present-day low-Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2 and low-Mg# well defined, and the slab can be traced into the
(2) central and east Surigao to (3) north East magmatism have succeeded early adakitic mag- mantle (Cardwell et al., 1980), but there is neg-
Philippine Arc (Fig. 2B). This is interpreted matism (Ozawa et al., 2004). Within Surigao, ligible East Philippine Arc magmatism there.
as reflecting a decreasing role for garnet and, there is evidence for more localized variations During this pre-arc stage (Fig. 1B), hydration of
therefore, decreasing mean depths of differen- in arc lithosphere thickness. Beneath central and the mantle wedge and/or flow of hot mantle into
tiation from arc initiation to maturity. east Surigao, the lithosphere was sufficiently the wedge is not sufficient to cause subduction-

312 GEOLOGY, April 2008

Low-MgO garnet pyroxenites vations may reflect localized variations in East
0.7 (Sierra Nevada)
Figure 3. Mg# (Mg/[Mg Philippine Arc lithospheric thickness super-
0.6 + FeII]) versus SiO2 for imposed on a progression from thick, immature
East Philippine Arc (EPA) arc lithosphere in the south to thin, mature arc
0.5 lavas. Fields are shown

lithosphere in the north. Such local geochemi-

0.4 for various estimates of
Estimates bulk continental crust
cal variations suggest that lithosphere erosion is
of BCC piecemeal.
0.3 (BCC; Kelemen, 1995)
and for low-MgO garnet Changes in lithosphere thickness will play a
0.2 pyroxenites from Sierra
Surigao: East Central West role throughout the history of any arc. Local-
0.1 Nevada (Lee et al., 2006), ized variations may be preserved from initiation
North EPA: Iriga Mayon Bulusan
which represent possible
0 deep-arc cumulates. or may develop further as the arc lithosphere
40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 responds to changes in slab dip, convergence
SiO2 (wt%) rate, convergence velocity, extension and the
flux of fresh basalt from the mantle wedge.
related magmatism. In the immature margin, as and other incompatible elements, may be highly These factors all have the potential to affect
epitomized by Surigao (Fig. 1C), the slab induces sensitive to deep fractionation (Lee et al., 2006). convective flow and fluid supply within the
flow in the mantle into which it also releases The low MgO contents of East Philippine Arc mantle wedge and, hence, influence the stability
fluids. These processes weaken and erode the rocks places large uncertainties on the Na6.0 of arc mantle lithosphere (Arcay et al., 2006).
mantle lithosphere and produce hydrous basal- values, yet the correlation with Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2 Therefore, any piece of arc lithosphere could
tic magma in the mantle wedge. The remaining is striking (Fig. 2B). thin or thicken during the lifetime of a subduc-
lithospheric mantle retards vertical migration of If the relationship in Figure 2B is used to cali- tion zone, depending on the flux of new basalt
the basalt, causing it to stall within the garnet brate Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2, the results suggest that from the mantle wedge versus the removal of
stability field. The strength of geochemical sig- differentiation depths for the onset of arc mag- lithospheric mantle—and the cumulates it con-
natures of deep differentiation, e.g., elevated matism, as typified by west Surigao adakitic tains—by erosion from beneath. Thickening
Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2 and Mg#, in evolved, silicic rocks, are similar to those in other arcs where and thinning would be manifest as magmatic
magma will depend on the exact depth of dif- the crust is thicker than 60 km. This is up to products fluctuating between those resembling
ferentiation. As the arc becomes mature, mantle 30 km thicker than crust associated with more the immature and mature stages of the East
flow becomes more vigorous (Billen and Hirth, arc-like magmatism in east and central Surigao. Philippine Arc, respectively.
2005). This combines with increasing fluxes of A conservative (i.e., old) estimate for initiation Much has been learned about spontaneous
fluid and heat from the mantle wedge to fur- of the Philippine Trench is 10 Ma. Assuming initiation of subduction from suprasubduction-
ther erode arc lithosphere (Arcay et al., 2006), that the trench propagated its 1600 km length zone ophiolites and the early products of the
so that basaltic magma is more likely to reach at a constant rate, then subduction initiated out- Izu-Bonin-Mariana Arc (Stern, 2004, and refer-
the crust and differentiate shallower than the board of Surigao ca. 4.5 Ma, just 1 m.y. before ences therein). The East Philippine Arc provides
garnet stability field (Fig. 1D). This will pro- the oldest examples of low-Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2 a valuable complement to existing subduc-
duce the more typical arc lava suites observed magmatism in east and central Surigao (Sajona tion initiation models because subduction was
in the northern East Philippine Arc. Earlier et al., 1994). This suggests that 1 m.y. was suffi- induced when convergence was transferred from
formed, garnet-bearing cumulates will be cient to remove ~30 km of mantle lithosphere. A a nearby margin (Cardwell et al., 1980; Hall,
delaminated as lithospheric mantle is eroded. similar rate of erosion has been determined for 1987). Magmatic products of the East Philip-
The greatest age measured for north East lithosphere removal above a thermal anomaly in pine Arc suggest that piecemeal thinning of the
Philippine Arc magmatism, 6.6 Ma (Ozawa the North Atlantic (Hamilton et al., 1998). proto-arc lithosphere occurs relatively quickly,
et al., 2004), provides a maximum estimate for but without the high extension rates responsible
the time required to remove most of the mantle DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS for producing the ophiolitic and/or boninite-
lithosphere in the mature segment. This sample Rocks with adakitic chemistry were origi- dominated suites that characterize spontaneous
displays adakitic traits (e.g., high Sr/Y, low Y, nally, and remain widely, attributed to melting initiation. Transitions from adakitic to typical
and high Ni) that, by analogy with Surigao, of subducted basaltic crust (Defant and Drum- arc magmatism would be an important marker
we attribute to deep differentiation with the mond, 1990). At Mindanao, however, slab melt- for lithospheric thinning of this type.
lithospheric mantle. However, the shorter dis- ing is ruled out on isotopic grounds (Macpherson Compositional similarities are widely used
tances that separate adakitic from more typical et al., 2006). The slab melting model for adakite to infer that subduction-related magmatism was
arc lavas in many parts of the East Philippine genesis has been questioned by an increasing involved in generating bulk continental crust
Arc suggest that lithosphere erosion may occur number of studies, e.g., Garrison and Davidson, (BCC; Rudnick and Gao, 2005, and references
substantially faster. (2003), Prouteau and Scaillet (2003), Chiaradia therein). The closest magmatic analogue for
In an attempt to place further constraints on et al. (2004), Eiler et al. (2007), and Rodriguez bulk continental crust is high-Mg# andesite,
the thickness of East Philippine Arc lithosphere, et al. (2007), with most of these attributing such as that in west Surigao (Kelemen, 1995).
which in mature arcs is believed to equate adakitic magmatism to garnet fractionation from These magmas are rare in modern arcs, but the
with the thickness of the crust (Rowland and hydrous arc basalt magma. The corollary to this East Philippine Arc suggests that high-Mg#
Davies, 1999), Δ(Dy/Yb)/ΔSiO2 is compared conclusion is that adakitic rocks can probe dif- andesite might have been more common in the
to Na6.0, which has been noted to correlate ferentiation deep beneath arcs. Adakitic rocks past if mean differentiation depths of hydrous
positively with crustal thickness (Plank and and typical arc andesites were generated con- basaltic magma were greater than at present.
Langmuir, 1988). Na6.0 is the Na2O content temporaneously in both Surigao (Macpherson High-Mg# andesites from the East Philippine
that would have been present in a melt contain- et al., 2006) and the north East Philippine Arc Arc are not an exact match for bulk continen-
ing 6 wt% MgO. Plank and Langmuir (1988) (Andal et al., 2005), indicating that the thick- tal crust, but the major element compositions
attributed Na6.0 variations to different degrees of ness of arc lithosphere varies considerably, with of magma from the immature and mature East
mantle melting, but the concentration of sodium, wavelengths of tens of kilometers. These obser- Philippine Arc are complementary with respect

GEOLOGY, April 2008 313

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