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Journal Articles Earth-Science Reviews Year : 2020

Slabitization: Mechanisms controlling subduction development and viscous coupling

Cécile Prigent
Mathieu Soret
Benoît Dubacq
Stephane Guillot
Damien Deldicque


This contribution investigates mechanisms controlling subduction development and stabilization over time (coined as 'slabitization'), from a nascent slab to a mature slab viscously coupled to mantle convection, from grain scale to plate tectonics scale. Frozen-in, deep and warm portions of the subduction plate interface with both sides still preserved are found at the base of ophiolites in almost pristine state. Both sides record changes in the mineralogy, structure, fluid content and rheology due to devolatilization of subducting metamorphic rocks. They allow characterizing the evolution, shortly after subduction initiation (~1–10 Ma), of interplate coupling, mantle resistance to slab penetration or incipient mantle wedge metasomatism, as well as transformations occurring at depth in warm or cold subduction zones today. This study combines structural field work, mineralogical and crystallographic data, detailed petrology, thermodynamic modelling and geochemistry from/on both sides of the plate interface, i.e. the base of the mantle wedge (basal ophiolitic peridotites) and crustal fragments from the slab (metamorphic soles). Data collected across the entire Semail ophiolite (Oman, UAE territory) and other similar settings worldwide (e.g., Canada, Turkey, New Caledonia) show a continuous evolution of the subduction plate interface from 1.2–0.9 GPa 900–750 °C to 0.7–0.5 GPa 750–600 °C, with progressive localization of strain and fluid transfer. Crystallization of neo-formed minerals, enrichment in fluid-mobile elements and their isotopic signature (e.g., for boron) indicate that metasomatism of the mantle base results from interaction with subduction fluids derived from the dehydrating metamorphic sole and slab tip, migrating at velocities ~1–10 m/a. Coeval deformation and metamorphic reactions in metabasalts of the downgoing slab reveal the importance of mineral changes (e.g., amphibole content) and deformation modes in controlling fluid delivery, stepwise detachment and accretion of successive slices from the downgoing slab (HTa, HTb and then LT soles) to the mylonitized mantle. This study demonstrates how the interplay between metamorphic reactions, fluid/melt transfer and deformation mechanisms, in particular dissolution-precipitation creep (DPC), controls the mechanical coupling state of the plate interface: (i) suppression of fluid transfer and DPC at depth triggers the onset of viscous coupling. This occurs near ~ 30 km depth during subduction infancy and HTa sole formation; (ii) with increased cooling and fluid availability, strain localization progressively develops downwards and unzips the subduction interface. The downward migration of viscous coupling triggers localized mantle wedge upwelling, potentially leading to short-lived suprasubduction ophiolite or forearc lithosphere formation; (iii) the locus of viscous coupling stabilizes near ~80–100 km in mature (and cold) subduction zones, and sets mantle counterflow. This is where and when plates get reattached and slabs become part of the mantle convection system. Recent geochronological data suggest that the duration from subduction nucleation to ophiolite formation is probably slower than suspected (~5–10 Ma), and that another 5–10 Ma may be needed to reach mature subduction and profuse arc magmatism. These results refine our view of the subduction factory and have important implications for how, how much, and which sort of fluid is being fluxed into the mantle wedge at depths where serpentine is no longer stable.
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Dates and versions

insu-02943055 , version 1 (18-09-2020)



Philippe Agard, Cécile Prigent, Mathieu Soret, Benoît Dubacq, Stephane Guillot, et al.. Slabitization: Mechanisms controlling subduction development and viscous coupling. Earth-Science Reviews, 2020, 208, pp.103259. ⟨10.1016/j.earscirev.2020.103259⟩. ⟨insu-02943055⟩
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