New Tectonic Framework for PNG and the Caroline Plate: Implications for Cessation of Spreading in Back-Arc Basins

Hagarty KA,
Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 4
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1987
At the northern margin of New Guinea there is a fundamental problem related to the relative timing of arc- continent collision(s) represented in the Papuan Fold-Belt (PFB) and backarc spreading in the Caroline basins. New fission track dates from basement and sediments within major anticlines of the PFB indicate that uplift occurred at 4.0 ¦ 0.5 Ma. The timing is consistent with the fold and thrust shortening (more than 100 km) of the PFB which occurred in the Late Miocene/Early Pliocene as evidenced by the deformed Miocene carbonates and Pliocene molasse deposits. However, in northern Papua New Guinea, earlier work has suggested that ophiolite emplacement and associated metamorphism occurred in the late Oligocene/early Miocene.The evidence suggests that the late Miocene/early Pliocene deformation was of considerably greater magnitude than the earlier obduction event. The Caroline Plate lying north of New Guinea has been interpreted as a backarc basin which commenced spreading in the Eocene and ceased spreading in the Late Oligocene (about 28 Ma). The remnant arc presently docked to New Guinea was active in the Eocene and Oligocene and is believed to be the arc related to the formation of the Caroline Plate. The cessation of spreading of the Caroline Plate has previously been interpreted to be due to arc continent collision during the Late Oligocene/Early Miocene, but such a collision is now known not to have occurred. In the Cretaceous and Palaeocene subduction was to the south beneath New Guinea, but "flipped" in the Eocene to give a north-dipping subduction zone far to the north of New Guinea, driving Caroline Plate backarc extension. This backarc basin reached a limiting size at about 28 Ma resulting in the end of subduction. With the continued northward movement of Australia, Mesozoic oceanic crust was obducted southward onto the New Guinea margin in the Late Oligocene/Early Miocene. In the Miocene south-dipping subduction beneath New Guinea commenced until the now extinct Caroline Plate arc collided with New Guinea in the Early Pliocene, causing extensive regional compression and sinistral strike-slip faulting. This new tectonic framework suggests that backarc basins reach a limiting ridge-trench distance of 1000-1500 knm, beyond which "subduction-pull" cannot drive further spreading so subduction and spreading are terminated.
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