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Geomorphology and Geochemistry of Back Arc Basins in the Havre Trough, Southwest Pacific

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posted on 2021-12-07, 06:32 authored by Pullan, Vanisha

The Havre Trough back arc system located behind the Kermadec Arc, in the southwest Pacific, is a classic example of an intra-oceanic back arc system. Subduction driven magmatism is focused at the arc front, and melting in the back arc is accompanied by back arc rifting. This study examines the deep back arc basins of the southern Havre Trough. Compared to the well-studied Kermadec Arc front volcanoes, the back arc basins remain poorly explored, yet are important features in understanding key structural and geochemical dynamics of the subduction system.  The back arc is characterised by areas of deeper basins and constructional cross-arc volcanic edifices, which had previously been attributed to ‘rift regime’ and ‘arc regime’, respectively. In this study, recently acquired multibeam data was used to produce digital terrain maps that show individual basins within the Havre Trough that host a range of different morphological features, such as elongated ridges, nearly-flat basin floors, and small volcanic cones. Lavas dredged from the 10 basins were analysed, eight of which sample the rift regime and two sample the arc regime.  The back arc basin lavas are basalts to basaltic-andesites and show fractionation of olivine + pyroxene ± plagioclase mineral assemblages. Olivine phenocrysts were tested for chemical equilibrium and predominantly show that crystallisation occurred in equilibrium with host melts. However, petrographic features such as dissolution and zoning within plagioclase show evidence of multistage magmatic evolution.  Whole rock trace element geochemistry reveals trace element characteristics typical of volcanic arc lavas, such as enrichments in large ion lithophile elements (LILE) and Pb relative to high field strength elements (HFSE). From west to east, the back arc basin lavas show a decrease in NbN/YbN, consistent with trench perpendicular flow and progressive melt extraction towards the volcanic front. There is also a broad correlation between NbN/YbN and distance along the strike of the subduction zone. This may suggest a component of trench parallel flow of the mantle wedge, with increasing depletion northwards, although further evidence is needed to rule out pre-existing mantle heterogeneity.  Ba/Th values, which trace the addition of slab-derived aqueous fluids, decrease with distance from the arc front. This indicates that the aqueous fluid component becomes less prominent with increasing distance from the arc front. Conversely, the basin lavas exhibit broadly increasing LaN/SmN values with distance from the arc front. As LaN/SmN can be used to trace the deep subduction component, i.e. sediment melt contribution, greater LaN/SmN suggests increasing contribution of a sediment signature away from the arc front. The parameters that measure recycled component flux are comparable between rift and arc regimes, so it is unlikely that increased volatile fluxing leads to the larger concentrations of magmatic activity displayed in arc regimes. Gill volcano (arc regime) has similar to higher NbN/YbN than lavas from adjacent basins, suggesting increased magmatic activity may in part relate to pockets of more fertile mantle. This study shows that back arcs and associated volcanism can be complicated, further research is integral in determining mechanisms for voluminous magmatic activity spread throughout the back arc.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure Basic Research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Hantler, Monica; Wysoczanski, Richard; Timm, Christian