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Monogr. Environ. Earth Planets, Vol. 1 (No. 1), pp. 1-70, 2012 doi:10.5047/meep.2012.00101.0001 ISSN: 2186-4853

Tomography and Dynamics of Western-Pacific Subduction Zones

Dapeng Zhao

Department of Geophysics, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8578, Japan

(Received July 4, 2011; Revised November 7, 2011; Accepted November 8, 2011; Online published January 31, 2012)

Citation: Zhao, D. (2012), Tomography and dynamics of Western-Pacific subduction zones, Monogr. Environ. Earth Planets, 1, 1-70, doi:10.5047/meep.2012.00101.0001.

Abstract: We review the significant recent results of multiscale seismic tomography of the Western-Pacific subduction zones and discuss their implications for seismotectonics, magmatism, and subduction dynamics, with an emphasis on the Japan Islands. Many important new findings are obtained due to technical advances in tomography, such as the handling of complex-shaped velocity discontinuities, the use of various later phases, the joint inversion of local and teleseismic data, tomographic imaging outside a seismic network, and P-wave anisotropy tomography. Prominent low-velocity (low-V) and high-attenuation (low-Q) zones are revealed in the crust and uppermost mantle beneath active arc and back-arc volcanoes and they extend to the deeper portion of the mantle wedge, indicating that the low-V/low-Q zones form the sources of arc magmatism and volcanism, and the arc magmatic system is related to deep processes such as convective circulation in the mantle wedge and dehydration reactions in the subducting slab. Seismic anisotropy seems to exist in all portions of the Northeast Japan subduction zone, including the upper and lower crust, the mantle wedge and the subducting Pacific slab. Multilayer anisotropies with different orientations may have caused the apparently weak shear-wave splitting observed so far, whereas recent results show a greater effect of crustal anisotropy than previously thought. Deep subduction of the Philippine Sea slab and deep dehydration of the Pacific slab are revealed beneath Southwest Japan. Significant structural heterogeneities are imaged in the source areas of large earthquakes in the crust, subducting slab and interplate megathrust zone, which may reflect fluids and/or magma originating from slab dehydration that affected the rupture nucleation of large earthquakes. These results suggest that large earthquakes do not strike anywhere, but in only anomalous areas that may be detected with geophysical methods. The occurrence of deep earthquakes under the Japan Sea and the East Asia margin may be related to a metastable olivine wedge in the subducting Pacific slab. The Pacific slab becomes stagnant in the mantle transition zone under East Asia, and a big mantle wedge (BMW) has formed above the stagnant slab. Convective circulations and fluid and magmatic processes in the BMW may have caused intraplate volcanism (e.g., Changbai and Wudalianchi), reactivation of the North China craton, large earthquakes, and other active tectonics in East Asia. Deep subduction and dehydration of continental plates (such as the Eurasian plate, Indian plate and Burma microplate) are also found, which have caused intraplate magmatism (e.g., Tengchong) and geothermal anomalies above the subducted continental plates. Under Kamchatka, the subducting Pacific slab shortens toward the north and terminates near the Aleutian-Kamchatka junction. The slab loss was induced by friction with the surrounding asthenosphere, as the Pacific plate rotated clockwise 30 Ma ago, and then it was enlarged by the slab-edge pinch-off by the asthenospheric flow. The stagnant slab finally collapses down to the bottom of the mantle, which may trigger upwelling of hot mantle materials from the lower mantle to the shallow mantle. Suggestions are also made for future directions of the seismological research of subduction zones.

Keywords: Seismic tomography, Subduction zones, Subducting slabs, Arc volcanoes, Mantle wedge, Forearc, Back-arc, Interplate megathrust zone, Earthquakes, Intraplate magmatism, Mantle transition zone.


Corresponding author e-mail: zhao@aob.gp.tohoku.ac.jp


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