Continental crust is buoyant compared with its oceanic counterpart and resists subduction into the mantle. When two continents collide, the mass balance for the continental crust is therefore assumed to be maintained. Here we use estimates of pre-collisional crustal thickness and convergence history derived from plate kinematic models to calculate the crustal mass balance in the India-Asia collisional system. Using the current best estimates for the timing of the diachronous onset of collision between India and Eurasia, we find that about 50% of the pre-collisional continental crustal mass cannot be accounted for in the crustal reservoir preserved at Earth's surface today - represented by the mass preserved in the thickened crust that makes up the Himalaya, Tibet and much of adjacent Asia, as well as southeast Asian tectonic escape and exported eroded sediments. This implies large-scale subduction of continental crust during the collision, with a mass equivalent to about 15% of the total oceanic crustal subduction flux since 56 million years ago. We suggest that similar contamination of the mantle by direct input of radiogenic continental crustal materials during past continent-continent collisions is reflected in some ocean crust and ocean island basalt geochemistry. The subduction of continental crust may therefore contribute significantly to the evolution of mantle geochemistry.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)