Publication Details

Buckman, S., Aitchison, J. C., Nutman, A. P., Bennett, V. C., Saktura, W. M., Walsh, J. M. J., Kachovich, S. & Hidaka, H. (2018). The Spongtang Massif in Ladakh, NW Himalaya: An Early Cretaceous record of spontaneous, intra-oceanic subduction initiation in the Neotethys. Gondwana Research, 63 226-249.


The Spongtang Massif is a remnant of Neotethyan ocean crust emplaced onto the Indian passive margin along the Indus-Yarlung-Tsangpo Suture in the NW Himalayan region of Ladakh. The age, tectonic evolution and timing of ophiolite obduction are critical to our understanding of the mechanisms via which entire oceans are formed, consumed and partly preserved before the onset of terminal continent-continent collisions. Geochemistry of the gabbro and basaltic units suggest the presence of both MORB-type and primitive arc-related mafic rocks. Zircons extracted from the Spongtang Massif gabbros yield U-Pb (SHRIMP) ages of 136-133 Ma with initial εHfvalues of +14 to +16, indicating Early Cretaceous juvenile, depleted mantle sources devoid of contamination by older continental crust. Previously, Middle Jurassic (~177 Ma) zircon ages were obtained from gabbro and we suggest these represent MORB-type Neotethyan oceanic crust through which a younger intra-oceanic island-arc (Spong arc) developed in response to subduction initiation during the Early Cretaceous (~136 Ma). Our zircon ages are consistent with Early Cretaceous ages obtained for radiolarian cherts within the Spong Arc complex. Subduction beneath the Spong Arc continued until its collision with the northern Indian continental margin during the early Eocene. We suggest that the Spongtang Massif is equivalent to the nearby Dras island arc terrane. Intra-oceanic subduction beneath this system was possibly initiated along NNE-SSW trending transform faults in the Neotethyan Ocean, along which different ages of ocean crust was juxtaposed, thereby development of the Early Cretaceous Spong Arc is superimposed on the older Jurassic Spongtang N-MORB crust. The juvenile ɛHfsignature indicates the subduction system that spawned the Spong island arc was not related to the coeval Trans-Himalayan (Ladakh-Gangdese) arc that developed along the southern margin of Eurasia. The age, composition and nature of geological relationships with the underlying Indian rocks indicate the Spong Arc was a juvenile, intra-oceanic terrane that first collided with India before the onset of final continent-continent collision. Therefore, final late Eocene Neotethys closure was between the Kohistan-Ladakh (Eurasian) continental arc and the already inactive Indian + Spongtang margin.

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