Melt origin across a rifted continental margin: A case for subduction-related metasomatic agents in the lithospheric source of alkaline basalt, NW Ross Sea, Antarctica

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Alkaline magmatism associated with the West Antarctic rift system in the NW Ross Sea (NWRS) includes a north-south chain of shield volcano complexes extending 260km along the coast of Northern Victoria Land (NVL), numerous small volcanic seamounts located on the continental shelf and hundreds more within an ~35 000km2 area of the oceanic Adare Basin. New 40Ar/39Ar age dating and geochemistry confirm that the seamounts are of Pliocene-Pleistocene age and petrogenetically akin to the mostly middle to late Miocene volcanism on the continent, as well as to a much broader region of diffuse alkaline volcanism that encompasses areas of West Antarctica, Zealandia and eastern Australia. All of these continental regions were contiguous prior to the late-stage breakup of Gondwana at ~100 Ma, suggesting that the magmatism is interrelated, yet the mantle source and cause of melting remain controversial. The NWRS provides a rare opportunity to study cogenetic volcanism across the transition from continent to ocean and consequently offers a unique perspective from which to evaluate mantle processes and the roles of lithospheric and sublithospheric sources for mafic alkaline magmas. Mafic alkaline magmas with > 6wt % MgO (alkali basalt, basanite, hawaiite, and tephrite) erupted across the transition from continent to ocean in the NWRS show a remarkable systematic increase in silica-undersaturation, P2O5, Sr, Zr, Nb and light rare earth element (LREE) concentrations, as well as LREE/HREE (heavy REE) and Nb/Y ratios. Radiogenic isotopes also vary, with Nd and Pb isotopic compositions increasing and Sr isotopic compositions decreasing oceanward. These variations cannot be explained by shallow-level crustal contamination or by changes in the degree of mantle partial melting, but are considered to be a function of the thickness and age of the mantle lithosphere. We propose that the isotopic signature of the most silica-undersaturated and incompatible element enriched basalts best represent the composition of the sub-lithospheric magma source with low 87Sr/86Sr (≤0.7030) and δ18Oolivine (≤5.0‰), and high 143Nd/144Nd (~0.5130) and 206Pb/204Pb (≥20). The isotopic 'endmember' signature of the sub-lithospheric source is derived from recycled subducted materials and was transferred to the lithospheric mantle by small-degree melts (carbonate-rich silicate liquids) to form amphibole-rich metasomes. Later melting of the metasomes produced silica-undersaturated liquids that reacted with the surrounding peridotite. This reaction occurred to a greater extent as the melt traversed through thicker and older lithosphere continentward. Ancient and/or more recent (~550-100 Ma) subduction along the Pan-Pacific margin of Gondwana supplied the recycled subduction-related material to the asthenosphere. Melting and carbonate metasomatism were triggered during major episodes of extension beginning in the Late Cretaceous, but alkaline magmatism was very limited in its extent. A significant delay of ~30 to 20 Myr between extension and magmatism was probably controlled by conductive heating and the rate of thermal migration at the base of the lithosphere. Heating was facilitated by regional mantle upwelling, possibly driven by slab detachment and sinking into the lower mantle and/or by edge-driven mantle flow established at the boundary between the thinned lithosphere of the West Antarctic rift and the thick East Antarctic craton.

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Journal of Petrology