Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 353–385 | Cite as

Mesozoic mafic magmatism in North China: Implications for thinning and destruction of cratonic lithosphere

  • Yongfei Zheng
  • Zheng Xu
  • Zifu Zhao
  • Liqun Dai


The North China Craton (NCC) has been thinned from >200 km to <100 km in its eastern part. The ancient subcontinental lithospheric mantle (SCLM) has been replaced by the juvenile SCLM in the Meoszoic. During this period, the NCC was destructed as indicated by extensive magmatism in the Early Cretaceous. While there is a consensus on the thinning and destruction of cratonic lithosphere in North China, it has been hotly debated about the mechanism of cartonic destruction. This study attempts to provide a resolution to current debates in the view of Mesozoic mafic magmatism in North China. We made a compilation of geochemical data available for Mesozoic mafic igneous rocks in the NCC. The results indicate that these mafic igneous rocks can be categorized into two series, manifesting a dramatic change in the nature of mantle sources at ~121 Ma. Mafic igneous rocks emplaced at this age start to show both oceanic island basalts (OIB)-like trace element distribution patterns and depleted to weakly enriched Sr-Nd isotope compositions. In contrast, mafic igneous rocks emplaced before and after this age exhibit both island arc basalts (IAB)-like trace element distribution patterns and enriched Sr-Nd isotope compositions. This difference indicates a geochemical mutation in the SCLM of North China at ~121 Ma. Although mafic magmatism also took place in the Late Triassic, it was related to exhumation of the deeply subducted South China continental crust because the subduction of Paleo-Pacific slab was not operated at that time. Paleo-Pacific slab started to subduct beneath the eastern margin of Eruasian continent since the Jurrasic. The subducting slab and its overlying SCLM wedge were coupled in the Jurassic, and slab dehydration resulted in hydration and weakening of the cratonic mantle. The mantle sources of ancient IAB-like mafic igneous rocks are a kind of ultramafic metasomatites that were generated by reaction of the cratonic mantle wedge peridotite not only with aqueous solutions derived from dehydration of the subducting Paleo-Pacific oceanic crust in the Jurassic but also with hydrous melts derived from partial melting of the subducting South China continental crust in the Triassic. On the other hand, the mantle sources of juvenile OIB-like mafic igneous rocks are also a kind of ultramafic metasomatites that were generated by reaction of the asthenospheric mantle underneath the North China lithosphere with hydrous felsic melts derived from partial melting of the subducting Paleo-Pacific oceanic crust. The subducting Paleo-Pacific slab became rollback at ~144 Ma. Afterwards the SCLM base was heated by laterally filled asthenospheric mantle, leading to thinning of the hydrated and weakened cratonic mantle. There was extensive bimodal magmatism at 130 to 120 Ma, marking intensive destruction of the cratonic lithosphere. Not only the ultramafic metasomatites in the lower part of the cratonic mantle wedge underwent partial melting to produce mafic igneous rocks showing negative εNd(t) values, depletion in Nb and Ta but enrichment in Pb, but also the lower continent crust overlying the cratonic mantle wedge was heated for extensive felsic magmatism. At the same time, the rollback slab surface was heated by the laterally filled asthenospheric mantle, resulting in partial melting of the previously dehydrated rocks beyond rutile stability on the slab surface. This produce still hydrous felsic melts, which metasomatized the overlying asthenospheric mantle peridotite to generate the ultramafic metasomatites that show positive εNd(t) values, no depletion or even enrichment in Nb and Ta but depletion in Pb. Partial melting of such metasomatites started at ~121 Ma, giving rise to the mafic igneous rocks with juvenile OIB-like geochemical signatures. In this context, the age of ~121 Ma may terminate replacement of the ancient SCLM by the juvenile SCLM in North China. Paleo-Pacific slab was not subducted to the mantle transition zone in the Mesozoic as revealed by modern seismic tomography, and it was subducted at a low angle since the Jurassic, like the subduction of Nazca Plate beneath American continent. This flat subduction would not only chemically metasomatize the cratonic mantle but also physically erode the cratonic mantle. Therefore, the interaction between Paleo-Pacific slab and the cratonic mantle is the first-order geodynamic mechanism for the thinning and destruction of cratonic lithosphere in North China.


Cratonic destruction Mafic magmas IAB-like series OIB-like series Lithospheric thinning Slab subduction 


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Thanks are due to two anonymous reviewers for their comments that helped the improvement of the presentation. This work was supported by the National Key Basic Research Program of China (Grant No. 2015CB856100) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41690620).


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© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CAS Key Laboratory of Crust-Mantle Materials and Environments, School of Earth and Space SciencesUniversity of Science and Technology of ChinaHefeiChina

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