Geodynamic evolution of Upper Cretaceous Zagros ophiolites: formation of oceanic lithosphere above a nascent subduction zone

Hadi Shafaii Moghadam*, Robert J. Stern

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


The Zagros fold-and-thrust belt of SW Iran is a young continental convergence zone, extending NW-SE from eastern Turkey through northern Iraq and the length of Iran to the Strait of Hormuz and into northern Oman. This belt reflects the shortening and off-scraping of thick sediments from the northern margin of the Arabian platform, essentially behaving as the accretionary prism for the Iranian convergent margin. Distribution of Upper Cretaceous ophiolites in the Zagros orogenic belt defines the northern limit of the evolving suture between Arabia and Eurasia and comprises two parallel belts: (1) Outer Zagros Ophiolitic Belt (OB) and (2) Inner Zagros Ophiolitic Belt (IB). These belts contain complete (if disrupted) ophiolites with well-preserved mantle and crustal sequences. Mantle sequences include tectonized harzburgite and rare ultramafic-mafic cumulates as well as isotropic gabbro lenses and isolated dykes within the harzburgite. Crustal sequences include rare gabbros (mostly in IB ophiolites), sheeted dyke complexes, pillowed lavas and felsic rocks. All Zagros ophiolites are overlain by Upper Cretaceous pelagic limestone. Limited radiometric dating indicates that the OB and IB formed at the same time during Late Cretaceous time. IB and OB components show strong suprasubduction zone affinities, from mantle harzburgite to lavas. This is shown by low whole-rock Al2O3 and CaO contents and spinel and orthopyroxene compositions of mantle peridotites as well as by the abundance of felsic rocks and the trace element characteristics of the lavas. Similarly ages, suprasubduction zone affinities and fore-arc setting suggest that the IB and OB once defined a single tract of fore-arc lithosphere that was disrupted by exhumation of subducted Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone metamorphic rocks. Our data for the OB and IB along with better-studied ophiolites in Cyprus, Turkey and Oman compel the conclusion that a broad and continuous tract of fore-arc lithosphere was created during Late Cretaceous time as the magmatic expression of a newly formed subduction zone developed along the SW margin of Eurasia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)762-801
Number of pages40
JournalGeological Magazine
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • fore-arc
  • Iran
  • Late Cretaceous
  • ophiolites
  • subduction
  • Tethys
  • Zagros

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