A drop off the old block?

It is not so long ago that detachment and foundering of material from lithospheric blocks began to be visualised as a means to explain large areas of recent, rapid uplift of the continental surface. Chunks falling from the subducted slabs beneath Tibet and Kamchatka (see Evidence for slab break-off in subduction zones in EPN September 2002) may have generated unusual magmatism or stopped volcanism respectively. Massive Himalayan uplift and that of areas such as the Sierra Nevada in the western US seem to indicate foundering of large masses of mafic rocks from the base of thickened lower crust (see Mantle dripping off mountain roots in EPN October 2004). Even the end-Miocene Messinian salinity crisis in the Mediterranean has been ascribed to uplift resulting from delamination (see When the Mediterranean dried up in EPN May 2003). Yet convincing evidence from seismic data are conspicuous by their rarity. A necking, or monstrous boudinage of the subducting slab beneath the Hindu Kush region of the Himalayan chain is convincingly demonstrated by geophysicists from the Australian National University (Lister, G. et al, 2008. Boudinage of a stretching slablet implicated in earthquakes beneath the Hindu Kush. Nature Geoscience, v. 1, p. 196-201).

The setting for this remarkable ‘caught in the act’ phenomenon is where a minor ocean basin closed when the Kohistan arc was accreted to Asia during the closure of the Tethys ocean, and is in the process of vanishing. Wherever such minor basins have been caught up in major destructive-margin tectonics they seem to coincide with markedly arcuate orogens characterised by high-P metamorphism and repeated stacking of thrust slices. Once school of thought seeks a solution by some kind of ductile ‘dripping’ of mantle, which the authors sought to test by looking at seismicity beneath the most prominent of these arcuate mini-orogens. What they found was a zone of ‘necking’ defined by clustered earthquakes on either side. Detailed analysis suggests that a drop-shaped mass is in the process of detaching itself by a combination of brittle and ductile deformation –a boudin several orders of magnitude than any the have previously been described.

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