Cenozoic strata from forearc basins in southern Alaska record deposition related to two different types of shallow subduction: Paleocene–Eocene spreading-ridge subduction and Oligocene–Recent oceanic plateau subduction. We use detrital zircon geochronology (n = 1368) and clast composition of conglomerate (n = 1068) to reconstruct the upper plate response to these two subduction events as recorded in forearc basin strata and modern river sediment. Following spreading-ridge subduction, the presence of Precambrian and Paleozoic detrital zircon ages in middle Eocene–lower Miocene arc-margin strata and Early Cretaceous ages in lower Miocene accretionary prism–margin strata indicates that sediment was transported to the basin from older terranes in interior Alaska and from the exhumed eastern part of the Cretaceous forearc system, respectively. By middle-late Miocene time, diminished abundances of these populations reflect shallow subduction of an oceanic plateau and associated exhumation that resulted in an overall contraction of the catchment area for the forearc depositional system.
In the southern Alaska forearc basin system, upper plate processes associated with subduction of a spreading ridge resulted in an abrupt increase in the diversity of detrital zircon ages that reflect new sediment sources from far inboard regions. The detrital zircon signatures from strata deposited during oceanic plateau subduction record exhumation of the region above the flat slab, with the youngest detrital zircon population reflecting the last period of major arc activity prior to insertion of the flat slab. This study provides a foundation for new tectonic and provenance models of forearc basins that have been modified by shallow subduction processes, and may help to facilitate the use of U-Pb dating of detrital zircons to better understand basins that formed under changing geodynamic plate boundary conditions.
- Received 13 January 2014.
- Revision received 27 January 2015.
- Accepted 31 March 2015.
- © 2015 Geological Society of America