Models of arc-continent accretion often assume that the period of subduction of continental lithosphere before plate boundary reorganization is fairly short lived, yet the timescale of this period is poorly constrained by observations in the geologic record. The island of Timor is the uplifted accretionary complex resulting from the active collision of the Banda volcanic arc with the Australian continental margin. The exposure of underplated and exhumed Australian strata on Timor allows for the characterization of the structural history of accretion of uppermost Australian crust and the quantification of subduction of its original continental lithospheric underpinnings. New structural mapping in East Timor (Timor-Leste) reveals that duplexing of a 2-km-thick package of Australian continental strata has built the majority of the structural elevation of the Timor orogen. Coupling new structural observations with previous thermochronology results reveals the sequence of deformation within the orogen, the presence of subsurface duplexing below the hinterland slate belt, and motion along a foreland subsurface thrust ramp. Construction of balanced cross sections allows for the quantification of the amount of shortening in the orogen, and from that, the length of the subducted Australian continental lithosphere. Two balanced cross sections in East Timor reveal 326–362 km of shortening and that 215–229 km of Australian continental lithosphere have been subducted below the Banda forearc. These results highlight the fact that considerable amounts of continental lithosphere can be subducted while accreting only a thin section of uppermost crust. Continental subduction may have been favorable at Timor because of fast subduction rates, old oceanic crust at the consumed Australian margin, and subduction of some length of transitional crust. These results provide quantitative constraints for future numerical modeling of the geodynamics of continental subduction and arc-continent collision.
- Received 25 October 2014.
- Revision received 11 June 2015.
- Accepted 18 August 2015.
- © 2015 Geological Society of America