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Nature. 2014 Apr 10;508(7495):245-8. doi: 10.1038/nature13033. Epub 2014 Mar 23.

Dynamics of continental accretion.

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1] School of Geosciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia [2] School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia [3] School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia.
School of Geosciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia.
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089, USA.
Geological Survey of Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia.


Subduction zones become congested when they try to consume buoyant, exotic crust. The accretionary mountain belts (orogens) that form at these convergent plate margins have been the principal sites of lateral continental growth through Earth's history. Modern examples of accretionary margins are the North American Cordilleras and southwest Pacific subduction zones. The geologic record contains abundant accretionary orogens, such as the Tasmanides, along the eastern margin of the supercontinent Gondwana, and the Altaïdes, which formed on the southern margin of Laurasia. In modern and ancient examples of long-lived accretionary orogens, the overriding plate is subjected to episodes of crustal extension and back-arc basin development, often related to subduction rollback and transient episodes of orogenesis and crustal shortening, coincident with accretion of exotic crust. Here we present three-dimensional dynamic models that show how accretionary margins evolve from the initial collision, through a period of plate margin instability, to re-establishment of a stable convergent margin. The models illustrate how significant curvature of the orogenic system develops, as well as the mechanism for tectonic escape of the back-arc region. The complexity of the morphology and the evolution of the system are caused by lateral rollback of a tightly arcuate trench migrating parallel to the plate boundary and orthogonally to the convergence direction. We find geological and geophysical evidence for this process in the Tasmanides of eastern Australia, and infer that this is a recurrent and global phenomenon.


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