Volcanism and sedimentation in a rifting island-arc terrain: An example from Tonga, SW Pacific

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Scientific drilling of narrow sub-basins within the Lau back-arc basin system of the SW Pacific has recovered uppermost Miocene to Recent volcaniclastic sediment and pelagic nannofossil oozes. Pliocene sediment gravity flow and turbidite sands from the western Lau Basin indicate a local source for the sediment, probably intrabasinal seamount volcanoes active during the initial stages of arc rifting. Derivation of abundant material from either the remnant volcanic arc (Lau Ridge) or the new Tofua arc is ruled out by the rugged topography of the basin and the proximal nature of the facies. Sediments from the Tonga platform, adjacent to the present day Tofua arc, indicate a peak in volcanic activity prior to and during the generation of the first back-arc basin crust at 5.25 Ma. A 2.0 Ma hiatus in arc volcanism on the trench side of the basin after rifting was brought to an end by the foundation of the Tofua arc at 3.0 Ma (Late Pliocene). On the basis of the sedimentary, geochemical and seismic data it is suggested that basin rifting involved an initial stage of extension of the original island arc, accompanied by volcanism in the form of major seamount volcanoes within the basin. These produced volcanic ash by submarine eruption, which was then reworked into adjacent sub-basins by slumping, gravity flow or turbidity current. Basin opening proceeded with a trenchward migration of extension and volcanism with time. This system was disrupted by the southward propagation of the Eastern Lau Spreading Centre into the southern Lau Basin at 1.5-1.0 Ma. This resulted in extension and volcanism being concentrated along the median valley of the spreading centre and a cessation in explosive volcanism of wide compositional range. Sedimentation in the Lau Basin since that time has been principally pelagic with minor ash layers mostly derived from the Tofua arc. © 1994 The Geological Society.

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Geological Society Special Publication

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