Proto-South China Sea Plate Tectonics Using Subducted Slab Constraints from Tomography

Abstract

The past size and location of the hypothesized proto-South China Sea vanished ocean basin has important plate-tectonic implications for Southeast Asia since the Mesozoic. Here we present new details on proto-South China Sea paleogeography using mapped and unfolded slabs from tomography. Mapped slabs included: the Eurasia-South China Sea slab subducting at the Manila trench; the northern Philippine Sea Plate slab subducting at the Ryukyu trench; and, a swath of detached, subhorizontal, slab-like tomographic anomalies directly under the South China Sea at 450 to 700 km depths that we show is subducted ‘northern proto-South China Sea’ lithosphere. Slab unfolding revealed that the South China Sea lay directly above the ‘northern Proto-South China Sea’ with both extending 400 to 500 km to the east of the present Manila trench prior to subduction. Our slab-based plate reconstruction indicated the proto-South China Sea was consumed by double-sided subduction, as follows: (1) The ‘northern proto-South China Sea’ subducted in the Oligo–Miocene under the Dangerous Grounds and southward expanding South China Sea by in-place ‘self subduction’ similar to the western Mediterranean basins; (2) limited southward subduction of the proto-South China Sea under Borneo occurred pre-Oligocene, represented by the 800–900 km deep ‘southern proto-South China Sea’ slab.

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Acknowledgments

We thank JES special issue guest editor Prof. Hua-Wei Zhou for inviting this paper. We also thank Prof. Zhou for his role in organizing an informative 2016 workshop on geophysical imaging in Qingdao, China, where portions of this paper were presented. We are grateful to JES staffs for support and help with this JES special issue. Jean-Claude Sibuet is thanked for sharing South China Sea expertise and insightful feedback on the proto-South China Sea reconstructions. Yiduo Liu and Yi-Wei Chen provided helpful comments on the draft manuscript. Two anonymous reviewers contributed thoughtful and constructive comments that improved the final paper. Please see the supplementary data section for a proto-South China Sea plate reconstruction movie file and digital GPlates plate reconstruction files. The final publication is available at Springer via https://doi.org/10.1007/s12583-017-0813-x.

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Wu, J., Suppe, J. Proto-South China Sea Plate Tectonics Using Subducted Slab Constraints from Tomography. J. Earth Sci. 29, 1304–1318 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12583-017-0813-x

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Key words

  • seismic tomography
  • plate tectonics
  • South China Sea
  • proto-South China Sea
  • subducted slabs
  • Borneo
  • Oligocene–Miocene