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Episodic back-arc spreading centre jumps controlled by transform fault to overriding plate strength ratio

Schliffke, Nicholas and van Hunen, Jeroen and Allen, Mark B. and Magni, Valentina and Gueydan, Frédéric (2022) 'Episodic back-arc spreading centre jumps controlled by transform fault to overriding plate strength ratio.', Nature communications., 13 (1). p. 582.


Spreading centre jumps are a common feature of oceanic back-arc basins. Jumps are conventionally suggested to be triggered by plate velocity changes, pre-existing weaknesses, or punctuated events such as the opening of slab windows. Here, we present 3D numerical models of back-arc spreading centre jumps evolving naturally in a homogeneous subduction system surrounded by continents without a trigger event. Spreading centres jump towards their subduction zone if the distance from trench to spreading centre becomes too long. In particular, jumps to a new spreading centre occur when the resistance on the boundary transform faults enabling relative motion of back-arc and neighbouring plates is larger than the resistance to break the overriding plate closer to trench. Time and distance of spreading centres jumps are, thus, controlled by the ratio between the transform fault and overriding plate strengths. Despite being less complex than natural systems, our models explain why narrow subducting plates (e.g. Calabrian slab), have more frequent and closely-spaced spreading jumps than wider subduction zones (e.g. Scotia). It also explains why wide back-arc basins undergo no spreading centre jumps in their life cycle.

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Publisher statement:Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:10 December 2022
Date deposited:19 May 2022
Date of first online publication:31 January 2022
Date first made open access:19 May 2022

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