Subduction initiation may unfold via different pathways in response to plate strength, plate age, and driving mechanism. Such pathways influence volcanism on the overriding plate and may be preserved in the sequence of erupted volcanic products. Here, we parameterize melting in a mechanical model to determine the volcanic products that form in response to different subduction initiation modes. We find that with a mode of continuous initiation with infant-arc spreading, the foundering of the subducting slab and water release from the slab govern a succession from basalts with compositions similar to mid-ocean-ridge basalts (MORB) to boninites. The modeled transition from MORB-like to boninite composition typically occurs within a few million years. When plate strength is reduced, the subducting slab tends to segment, with extensive melting occurring when the slab breaks; most melting occurs close to the trench. When plate strength increases, subduction initiation becomes continuous without infant-arc spreading; such a mode leads to a limited, very low degree of melting occurring during a long interval of plate convergence before subduction initiation starts, although extensive melting near the trench is still possible when subduction initiation starts after a protracted period of plate convergence (∼10 m.y.). If the subduction initiation is driven by constant stresses, such as through ridge push, the slab subducts rapidly in response to continuous acceleration of the plate under action of the far-field push; significant melting, including boninite eruption, can be generated within a few million years with no trench migration. Based on the tectonic and volcanic evolution, these different modes may be applicable to the initiation of the Izu-Bonin-Mariana arc (infant-arc spreading and a sequence from MORB-like to boninites), the New Hebrides arc (slab segments in the upper mantle), the Puysegur Trench in New Zealand (scarce distribution of volcanism and no infant-arc spreading), and the Aleutian Trench (strong volcanism and no infant-arc spreading).
- Received 29 March 2012.
- Revision received 20 August 2012.
- Accepted 28 September 2012.
- © 2011 Geological Society of America