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Architectural and Tectonic Control on the Segmentation of the Central American Volcanic Arc

  • Gazel, Esteban
  • Flores, Kennet E.
  • Carr, Michael J.
Published Article
Annual Reviews
Publication Date
May 30, 2021
DOI: 10.1146/annurev-earth-082420-055108
Annual Reviews


Central America has a rich mix of conditions that allow comparisons of different natural experiments in the generation of arc magmas within the relatively short length of the margin. The shape of the volcanic front and this margin's architecture derive from the assemblage of exotic continental and oceanic crustal slivers, and later modification by volcanism and tectonic activity. Active tectonics of the Cocos-Caribbean plate boundary are strongly influenced by oblique subduction, resulting in a narrow volcanic front segmented by right steps occurring at ∼150-km intervals. The largest volcanic centers are located where depths to the slab are ∼90–110 km. Volcanoes that develop above deeper sections of the subducting slab are less voluminous and better record source geochemical heterogeneity. Extreme variations in isotopic and trace element ratios are derived from different components of thesubducted oceanic lithosphere. However, the extent that volcanoes sample these signatures is also influenced by lithospheric structures that control the arc segmentation. ▪  The architecture of Central America derives from the assemblage of exotic continental and oceanic crustal slivers modified by arc magmatism and tectonic processes. ▪  Active tectonics in Central America are controlled by oblique subduction. ▪  The lithospheric architecture and tectonics define the segmentation of the volcanic front, and thus the depth to the slab below a volcanic center. ▪  The composition of the subducted material is the main control of the along arc geochemical variations observed in Central American volcanoes. ▪  Geochemical heterogeneity in each segment is highlighted by extreme compositions representing the smaller centers with variations up to 65% of the total observed range.

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