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Backarc Basins pp 237-279 | Cite as

Geology of the Mariana Trough

  • Patricia Fryer

Abstract

The Mariana Trough is an actively spreading, crescent-shaped, backarc basin located in the western Pacific between the active Mariana volcanic island arc and the West Mariana Ridge, a remnant arc. The geologic evolution of the Mariana Trough varies along strike of the basin from the initial opening phase in the north to the mature seafloor spreading phase in the central latitudes. The opening of the basin began with an initial period of stretching and collapse of the preexisting arc followed by development of ridge/ transform structures along an active volcanic and tectonic zone on the eastern side of the basin. Eventually a true spreading center developed within the basin as the principal volcanic and tectonic zone diverged from the active volcanic front. The current along-strike variations in rifting/ spreading history define distinct geographic regions: the northern rifting apex, the central spreading basin, and the southern platform.

The northern apex region of the Mariana Trough typifies the early rifting stage. The zone of principal volcanism and tectonic deformation is close to the active volcanic front, and the western margin is characterized by numerous normal fault blocks downstepping to the east. Magmatic activity has remained primarily on the eastern side of the basin close to its present position, although occasional outbreaks of volcanism occur in the western portion of the basin along boundaries of fault blocks. A block-faulted region approximately 60 km wide exists along the western margin of the Mariana Trough reflecting the early stage of rifting of the basin.

The central spreading region of the Mariana Trough represents the mature spreading section of the basin. The seafloor morphology is typical of slow spreading, with a series of north-south trending valleys and ridges similar to abyssal hills offset by transform fault valleys. Volcanism is predominantly confined to the spreading center. Graben and horst structures at the margin of the abyssal hill fabric in the western part of the basin represent the early phase of opening of the basin. Preexisting structural elements that cut across the arc system persist throughout both the early rifting and the later spreading stages of the basin. Chains of submarine volcanoes (volcanic cross-chains) extend into the backarc basin along some of these lineaments, permitting the leakage of arc magmas into the backarc basin.

The southern basin platform is a shallow (less than 3 km), relatively low relief region, except where it is separated from the active volcanic front and from the remnant arc by deep, narrow troughs. Perturbations of the typical spreading center morphology occur where the active spreading zone of the platform intersects the volcanic front at about 13°N, 144°E in the southernmost portion of the backarc basin. This position coincides with a major north-south trending fault that crosscuts the forearc, arc, and backarc basin. It has influenced the spreading axis and the eastern margin of the trough.

The distribution of volcanism within the basin varies according to the developmental stages of the spreading center. Volcanism and hydrothermal activity are also influenced by cross-arc and along-arc deformation of the Mariana platelet. Most lavas from the backarc basin spreading ridges show systematic differences from mid-ocean ridge basalt as a consequence of infusion of the source with subduction-related constituents. The compositional variations of lavas within the basin indicate complex local tectonic control over magma genesis and an intricate interplay of mixing from several sources with crystallization at various pressures.

Keywords

Backarc Basin Spreading Center Seafloor Spreading Fault Scarp Volcanic Front 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia Fryer
    • 1
  1. 1.Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and TechnologyUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaHonoluluUSA

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