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Continental Interior and Edge Breakup at Convergent Margins Induced by Subduction Direction Reversal: A Numerical Modeling Study Applied to the South China Sea Margin

Li, Fucheng and Sun, Zhen and Yang, Hongfeng and Lin, Jian and Stock, Joann M. and Zhao, Zhongxian and Xu, Hehua and Sun, Longtao (2020) Continental Interior and Edge Breakup at Convergent Margins Induced by Subduction Direction Reversal: A Numerical Modeling Study Applied to the South China Sea Margin. Tectonics, 39 (11). Art. No. e2020TC006409. ISSN 0278-7407. doi:10.1029/2020tc006409.

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The dynamics of continental breakup at convergent margins has been described as the results of backarc opening caused by slab rollback or drag force induced by subduction direction reversal. Although the rollback hypothesis has been intensively studied, our understanding of the consequence of subduction direction reversal remains limited. Using thermo‐mechanical modeling based on constraints from the South China Sea (SCS) region, we investigate how subduction direction reversal controls the breakup of convergent margins. The numerical results show that two distinct breakup modes, namely, continental interior and edge breakup (“edge” refers to continent above the plate boundary interface), may develop depending on the “maturity” of the convergent margin and the age of the oceanic lithosphere. For a slab age of ~15 to ~45 Ma, increasing the duration of subduction promotes the continental interior breakup mode, where a large block of the continental material is separated from the overriding plate. In contrast, the continental edge breakup mode develops when the subduction is a short‐duration event, and in this mode, a wide zone of less continuous continental fragments and tearing of the subducted slab occur. These two modes are consistent with the interior (relic late Mesozoic arc) and edge (relic forearc) rifting characteristics in the western and eastern SCS margin, suggesting that variation in the northwest‐directed subduction duration of the Proto‐SCS might be a reason for the differential breakup locus along the strike of the SCS margin. Besides, a two‐segment trench associated with the northwest‐directed subduction is implied in the present‐day SCS region.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Li, Fucheng0000-0001-7761-9133
Sun, Zhen0000-0002-2991-9999
Yang, Hongfeng0000-0002-5925-6487
Lin, Jian0000-0002-6831-2014
Stock, Joann M.0000-0003-4816-7865
Zhao, Zhongxian0000-0002-5096-4743
Additional Information:© 2020 American Geophysical Union. Issue Online: 30 October 2020; Version of Record online: 30 October 2020; Accepted manuscript online: 06 October 2020; Manuscript accepted: 29 September 2020; Manuscript revised: 24 September 2020; Manuscript received: 02 July 2020. This research was supported by the Guangdong NSF research team project (2017A030312002), the Key Special Project for Introduced Talents Team of Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Guangzhou) (GML2019ZD0205), the K. C. Wong Education Foundation (GJTD‐2018‐13), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Science (XDA13010303), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Y4SL021001, QYZDY‐SSWDQC005, 133244KYSB20180029, and ISEE2019ZR01), the NSFC project (41606073, 41890813, and 41576070), the IODP‐China Foundation, the OMG Visiting Fellowship (OMG18‐15), and the Hong Kong Research Grant Council Grants (Nos. 14313816 and 14304820). We thank Fabio Crameri, Marta Pérez‐Gussinyé, two anonymous reviewers, editor Laurent Jolivet, and associated editor Laurent Husson for their constructive comments that contributed to improving the manuscript. An earlier review by Guillaume Duclaux is also appreciated. Data Availability Statement: Data can be obtained from a repository (
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province2017A030312002
Key Special Project for Introduced Talents Team of Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong LaboratoryGML2019ZD0205
K. C. Wong Education FoundationGJTD‐2018‐13
Chinese Academy of SciencesXDA13010303
Chinese Academy of SciencesY4SL021001
Chinese Academy of SciencesQYZDY‐SSWDQC005
Chinese Academy of Sciences133244KYSB20180029
Chinese Academy of SciencesISEE2019ZR01
National Natural Science Foundation of China41606073
National Natural Science Foundation of China41890813
National Natural Science Foundation of China41576070
OMG Visiting FellowshipOMG18‐15
Hong Kong Research Grant Council14313816
Hong Kong Research Grant Council14304820
Subject Keywords:Continental breakup; Convergent margins; Edge breakup; Subduction direction reversal; Proto‐South China Sea; Numerical modeling
Issue or Number:11
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20201007-140342146
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Li, F., Sun, Z., Yang, H., Lin, J., Stock, J. M., Zhao, Z., et al. (2020). Continental interior and edge breakup at convergent margins induced by subduction direction reversal: A numerical modeling study applied to the South China Sea margin. Tectonics, 39, e2020TC006409.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:105899
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:07 Oct 2020 21:22
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 18:47

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