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An oblique subduction model for closure of the Proto-Tethys and Palaeo-Tethys oceans and creation of the Central China Orogenic Belt

Allen, Mark B.; Song, Shuguang; Wang, Chao; Zeng, Renyu; Wen, Tao

An oblique subduction model for closure of the Proto-Tethys and Palaeo-Tethys oceans and creation of the Central China Orogenic Belt Thumbnail


Shuguang Song

Chao Wang

Renyu Zeng

Tao Wen


Subduction and closure of the Proto-Tethys and Palaeo-Tethys oceans were important events in the assembly of Eurasia, and created the Central China Orogenic Belt (CCOB). This paper presents a new tectonic model for the CCOB in which we propose that elongate Precambrian basement blocks within the CCOB were originally part of a single ribbon continent, here named K-Qubed after the Kunlun-Qaidam-Qilian-Qinling regions. K-Qubed separated from the South China Block in the Neoproterozoic. Dextral-oblique subduction of the Proto-Tethys Ocean took place southwards (present co-ordinates) under K-Qubed in latest Precambrian - Cambrian times (ca. 550–500 Ma). Subduction-accretion complexes were generated alongside the basement, while arc magmatism overprinted both basement and accretionary crust. Initial collision of the northern side of the ribbon continent and the North China and Tarim blocks occurred at ca. 500 Ma. High-pressure and ultrahigh-pressure metamorphism resulted by ca. 490 Ma, in the North Qilian, South Altun/North Qaidam and North Qinling regions. Collision triggered a flip in subduction polarity, and caused a subduction-accretion complex and magmatic arc to build out southwards from K-Qubed, as Palaeo-Tethys was consumed northwards in the Ordovician. Magmatic timings were similar between different tectonic units; twin peaks in magmatism at ca. 500–490 Ma and ca. 440–430 Ma occurred in several terranes. Oblique subduction caused strain partitioning, in turn causing slivering and across-strike repetition of basement and accretionary crust. Tectonic units in the Qilian Shan and Kunlun can be partly correlated with equivalents in the Qinling Orogen. We suggest a match between the North Qilian Orogenic Belt and the Erlangping Unit, between the Central Qilian Block and the North Qinling Belt, between the South Qilian Accretionary Belt and the Shangdan Suture Zone. Basement terranes of the Qaidam region and the East Kunlun Orogen have no obvious lateral equivalents in the Qinling, and are truncated at the eastern margins by the West Qinling Belt. There are similar ages for peak metamorphism at ca. 440–420 Ma in an eclogite belt in the North Qaidam Ultra High-pressure Metamorphic Belt (NQUB) and eclogite localities in the East Kunlun Orogen. We interpret this metamorphism to be result of slab break-off beneath the K-Qubed continent, with metamorphic rocks repeated across-strike by dextral shear. The component of Precambrian crust in the Kunlun diminishes westwards into the West Kunlun, where Early Palaeozoic accretion of crust was more continuous. A magmatic gap throughout the CCOB between ca. 370 and ca. 290 Ma was possibly related to extremely oblique and/or slow plate convergence, or represents a time through which subduction stopped. Renewed northwards subduction of the Palaeo-Tethyan Ocean took place under the south side of the Kunlun and Qinling in the Permian, completed by Triassic collisions of the Qiangtang and South China blocks with the southern side of the CCOB. This model for the CCOB is an alternative to collisional and accretionary end members for orogeny, whereby oblique subduction and collision of a ribbon continent produces interleaving of basement and more juvenile terranes. Closure of Proto-Tethys did not involve multiple, separate and synchronous subduction zones, or repetition of a subduction zone by oroclinal bending, as previously proposed.


Allen, M. B., Song, S., Wang, C., Zeng, R., & Wen, T. (2023). An oblique subduction model for closure of the Proto-Tethys and Palaeo-Tethys oceans and creation of the Central China Orogenic Belt. Earth-Science Reviews, 240,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 12, 2023
Online Publication Date Mar 23, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Apr 20, 2023
Publicly Available Date Apr 20, 2023
Journal Earth-Science Reviews
Print ISSN 0012-8252
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 240


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