Accelerating late Quaternary uplift of the New Georgia Island Group (Solomon island arc) in response to subduction of the recently active Woodlark spreading center and Coleman seamount
The New Georgia Island Group of the Solomon Islands is one of four places where an active or recently active spreading ridge has subducted beneath an island arc. We have used coral reef terraces, paleobathymetry of Neogene sedimentary rocks, and existing marine geophysical data to constrain patterns of regional Quaternary deformation related to subduction of the recently active Woodlark spreading center and its overlying Coleman seamount. These combined data indicate the following vertical tectonic history for the central part of the New Georgia Island Group: (1) subsidence of the forearc region (Tetepare and Rendova Islands) to water depths of ∼1500 m and deposition of marine turbidites until after 270 ka; (2) late Quaternary uplift of the forearc to sea level and erosion of an unconformity; (3) subsidence of the forearc to ∼500 m BSL and deposition of bathyal sediments; and (4) uplift of the forearc above sea level with Holocene uplift rates up to at least 7.5 mm/yr on Tetepare and 5 mm/yr on Rendova. In the northeastern part of the New Georgia Island Group, our combined data indicate a slightly different tectonic history characterized by lower-amplitude vertical motions and a more recent change from subsidence to uplift. Barrier reefs formed around New Georgia and Vangunu Islands as they subsided >300 m. By 50-100 ka, subsidence was replaced by uplift that accelerated to Holocene rates of ∼1 mm/yr on the volcanic arc compared with rates up to ∼7.5 mm/yr in the forearc area of Tetepare and Rendova. Uplift mechanisms, such as thermal effects due to subduction of spreading ridges, tectonic erosion, or underplating of deeply subducted bathymetric features, are not likely to function on the 270-ka period that these uplift events have occurred in the New Georgia Island Group. A more likely uplift mechanism for the post-270-ka accelerating uplift of the forearc and volcanic arc of the New Georgia Island Group is progressive impingement of the Coleman seamount or other topographically prominent features on the subducting plate. Regional effects we relate to this ongoing subduction-related process include: (1) late Quaternary (post-270 ka), accelerating uplift of the Rendova-Tetepare forearc area in response to initial impingement of the Coleman seamount followed by exponentially increasing collisional contact between the forearc and seamount; (2) later Quaternary propagation of uplift arcward to include the volcanic arc as the area of collisional contact between the forearc and seamount increased; and (3) large-wavelength folding that has produced regional variations in late Holocene uplift rates observed in both forearc (southern Rendova, Tetepare) and volcanic arc (New Georgia Island) areas. We propose that the dominant tectonic effect of Coleman seamount impingement is horizontal shortening of the forearc and arc crust that is produced by strong coupling between the subducting seamount and the unsedimented crystalline forearc of the New Georgia Island Group. The horizontal forces due to mechanical resistance to subducting rugged ridge and seamount topography may have terminated spreading of the Woodlark spreading center entering the trench (Ghizo ridge) and converted it to a presently active strike-slip fault zone.