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Eastern China continental lithosphere thinning is a consequence of paleo-Pacific subduction: A review and new perspectives

Sun, P. and Guo, P. Y and Niu, Yaoling (2021) 'Eastern China continental lithosphere thinning is a consequence of paleo-Pacific subduction: A review and new perspectives.', Earth-science reviews., 218 . p. 103680.


Understanding the processes that lead to the lithosphere thinning is a key aspect of continental geology research. In this paper, we present essential observations and summarize our understandings on the lithosphere thinning and accompanying magmatism in eastern continental China since the Mesozoic as a straightforward consequence of plate tectonics. We show that the lithosphere thinning in the Mesozoic resulted from basal hydration weakening with the water coming from dehydration of the paleo-Pacific plate in the mantle transition zone. The weakening effect is to convert the basal lithosphere into asthenosphere by reducing its viscosity, having thus thinned the lithosphere while triggering mantle melting and crustal magmatism marked by the widespread Mesozoic basalts and granitoids in space and time. These observations and logical reasoning require the existence and effect of subducted paleo-Pacific plate in the mantle transition zone, whose active subduction ended at ~ 90 Ma with the suture located off the continental China marked by the arc-shaped southeast coastline. As a result, the thinned lithosphere began a 40-Myr period (i.e., ~ 90 to ~ 50 Ma) of basal accretion manifested by compositional systematics of basalts erupted in this period. The initiation of the present-day western Pacific subduction at ~ 50 Ma and its eastward retreat caused eastward drift of continental China, leaving the older portions of the present-day Pacific slab stagnant in the mantle transition zone with resumed water supply in the form of hydrous melt to maintain the thinned lithosphere, which is the same as creating and maintaining the oceanic-type seismic low velocity zone (LVZ) beneath eastern China, responsible for the Cenozoic alkali basalt volcanism in the region. That is, the present-day lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary (LAB) beneath eastern China is a petrological boundary, either as an amphibole dehydration solidus or water-saturated solidus. As predicted, the Cenozoic alkali basalts in eastern China demonstrate that lithosphere thickness (i.e., the LAB depth) controls the compositions of mantle melts, i.e., the lid effect. The latter further confirms the LAB beneath eastern China as a solidus, below which decompression melting happens, and above which melt solidifies or ascends rapidly to the surface. Our studies thus lead us to the unavoidable conclusion that the lithosphere thinning in the Mesozoic, the present-day LAB, the seismic LVZ and the widespread Mesozoic-Cenozoic magmatism in eastern China are all consequences of plate tectonics in response to paleo-Pacific plate subduction, which is of global significance for understanding intra-continental magmatism at present and in Earth’s histories.

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Publisher statement:© 2021 The Author(s).Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (
Date accepted:10 May 2021
Date deposited:11 May 2021
Date of first online publication:14 May 2021
Date first made open access:13 August 2021

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