Rapid transition from continental breakup to igneous oceanic crust in the South China Sea


H. C. Larsen, Tongji University
G. Mohn, Laboratoire Géosciences et Environnement Cergy (GEC)
M. Nirrengarten, Laboratoire Géosciences et Environnement Cergy (GEC)
Z. Sun, South China Seas Institute of Oceanography Chinese Academy of Sciences
J. Stock, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences
Z. Jian, Tongji University
A. Klaus, Texas A&M University
C. A. Alvarez-Zarikian, Texas A&M University
J. Boaga, Università degli Studi di Padova
S. A. Bowden, University of Aberdeen
A. Briais, Université Fédérale Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées
Y. Chen, Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry Chinese Academy of Sciences
D. Cukur, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources
K. Dadd, The University of Sydney
W. Ding, State Oceanic Administration China
M. Dorais, Brigham Young University
E. C. Ferré, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
F. Ferreira, Universidade Federal Fluminense
A. Furusawa, Shimane University
A. Gewecke, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
J. Hinojosa, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences
T. W. Höfig, Texas A&M University
K. H. Hsiung, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology
B. Huang, Peking University
E. Huang, Tongji University
X. L. Huang, Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry Chinese Academy of Sciences
S. Jiang, Jinan University
H. Jin, Tongji University
B. G. Johnson, West Virginia University
R. M. Kurzawski, GEOMAR - Helmholtz-Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel
C. Lei, China University of Geosciences
B. Li, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology Chinese Academy of Sciences
L. Li, Tongji University

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Continental breakup represents the successful process of rifting and thinning of the continental lithosphere, leading to plate rupture and initiation of oceanic crust formation. Magmatism during breakup seems to follow a path of either excessive, transient magmatism (magma-rich margins) or of igneous starvation (magma-poor margins). The latter type is characterized by extreme continental lithospheric extension and mantle exhumation prior to igneous oceanic crust formation. Discovery of magma-poor margins has raised fundamental questions about the onset of ocean-floor type magmatism, and has guided interpretation of seismic data across many rifted margins, including the highly extended northern South China Sea margin. Here we report International Ocean Discovery Program drilling data from the northern South China Sea margin, testing the magma-poor margin model outside the North Atlantic. Contrary to expectations, results show initiation of Mid-Ocean Ridge basalt type magmatism during breakup, with a narrow and rapid transition into igneous oceanic crust. Coring and seismic data suggest that fast lithospheric extension without mantle exhumation generated a margin structure between the two endmembers. Asthenospheric upwelling yielding Mid-Ocean Ridge basalt-type magmatism from normal-temperature mantle during final breakup is interpreted to reflect rapid rifting within thin pre-rift lithosphere.

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Nature Geoscience

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