Delamination/thinning of sub-continental lithospheric mantle under eastern China: The role of water and multiple subduction

B. F. Windley, S. Maruyama, W. J. Xiao

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279 Citations (Scopus)


We present a new model to explain one of the biggest tectonic problems of Earth Sciences today, namely, how and why did the Archean sub-continental lithospheric mantle under the Eastern Block of the North China Craton (NCC) delaminate or thin so drastically in the Cretaceous? The eastern NCC is surrounded by several sutures: to the north the south-dipping Solonker (Permo-Triassic formation age) and Mongol-Okhotsk suture (Jurassic formation age), to the south the north-dipping Dabie Shan and Song Ma sutures (Permo-Triassic formation age), and to the east the Pacific oceanic plate (200-100 Ma). Water was carried down under the eastern NCC by the hydrated Pacific plate for at least 100 Ma, and by oceanic plates subducted along the Solonker, Dabie Shan and Song Ma sutures for at least 250 Ma from the early Paleozoic to the Permo-Triassic, and by the Mongol-Okhotsk suture for at least 200 Ma until the Jurassic. Tomographic images show that the Pacific plate has ponded along the top of the mantle transition zone under the eastern NCC for over ca. 2000 km from the Japan trench. An addition of 0.2 weight percent H 2O lowered the solidus temperature of hydrous mantle peridotite by 150 °C, which led to extensive melting in the hydrous mantle transition zone, and to the rise of hydrous plumes into the overlying crust-mantle. By the time of formation of the Permo-Triassic sutures, the hydration caused by subduction of four oceanic plates had caused major garnetization of the Archean crustal root of the eastern NCC, and post-collisional thrusting in the Jurassic led to major crust/mantle thickening and this triggered collapse of the hydro-weakened garnet-enriched crustal root. During the extensional Cretaceous period, abundant mafic, adakitic and granitic intrusions and extensive gold mineralization were emplaced and metamorphic core complexes and sedimentary and foreland basins formed in and around the eastern NCC. Part of the root was chemically transformed and replaced by upwelling fertile asthenospheric material, which fed the extrusion of extensive alkali flood basalts in the Cenozoic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1250-1293
Number of pages44
JournalAmerican Journal of Science
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Delamination
  • East Asia
  • North China craton
  • Permo-Triassic orogeny
  • Water in subduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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