Tectonic control on the genesis of magmas in the New Hebrides arc (Vanuatu)

Christoph Beier*, Philipp A. Brandl, Selma M. Lima, Karsten M. Haase

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


We present here new bathymetric, petrological and geochemical whole rock, glass and mineral data from the submarine Epi volcano in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) island arc. The structure has previously been interpreted to be part of a larger caldera structure but new bathymetric data reveal that the volcanic cones are aligned along shear zones controlled by the local tectonic stress field parallel to the recent direction of subduction. We aim to test if there is an interaction between local tectonics and magmatism and to what extent the compositions of island arc volcanoes may be influenced by their tectonic setting. Primitive submarine Epi lavas and those from the neighbouring Lopevi and Ambrym islands originate from a depleted mantle wedge modified by addition of subduction zone components. Incompatible element ratios sensitive to fluid input (e.g., Th/Nb, Ce/Yb) in the lavas are positively correlated with those more sensitive to mantle wedge depletion (e.g., Nb/Yb, Zr/Nb) amongst the arc volcanoes suggesting that fluids or melts from the subducting sediments have a stronger impact on the more depleted compositions of the mantle wedge. The whole rock, glass and mineral major and trace element compositions and the occurrence of exclusively normally zoned clinopyroxene and plagioclase crystals combined with the absence of inversely zoned crystals and water-bearing phases in both mafic and evolved lavas suggest that the erupted melt was relatively dry compared to other subduction zone melts and has experienced little disequilibrium modification by melt mixing or assimilation. Our data also imply that differentiation of amphibole is not required to explain the incompatible element patterns but may rather result from extensive clinopyroxene fractionation in agreement with petrographic observations. Thermobarometric calculations indicate that the melts fractionated continuously during ascent, contrasting with fractionation during stagnation in an established crustal magma reservoir. We interpret the occurrence of this fractional crystallisation end-member in a relatively thick island arc crust (~30 km thickness) to result from isolated and relatively rapid ascent of melts, most likely through a complex system of dykes and sills that developed due to the tectonic positioning of Epi in a complex tectonic zone between a compressional environment in the north and an extensional setting in the south. We can show that the alignment of the cones largely depends on the local tectonic stress field at Epi that is especially influenced by a large dextral strike-slip zone, indicating that structural features have a significant impact on the location and composition of volcanic edifices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-307
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Vanuatu
  • New Hebrides
  • Silicic melt
  • Island arc
  • Magma evolution
  • Structural control
  • Geodynamics


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