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Evidence for a serpentinized plate interface favouring continental subduction

Yang Lu, Stéphane Guillot, Anne Paul, Marco G. Malusà, Liang Zhao, Huaiyu Yuan

The dynamics of continental subduction is largely controlled by the rheological properties of rocks involved along the subduction channel. Serpentinites have low viscosity at geological strain rates. However, compelling geophysical evidence of a serpentinite channel during continental subduction is still lacking. Here we show that anomalously low shear-wave seismic velocities are found beneath the Western Alps, along the plate interface between the European slab and the overlying Adriatic mantle. We propose that these seismic velocities indicate the stacked remnants of a weak fossilised serpentinite channel, which includes both slivers of abyssal serpentinite formed at the ocean floor and mantle-wedge serpentinite formed by fluid release from the subducting slab. Our results suggest that this serpentinized plate interface may have favoured the subduction of continental crust into the upper mantle and the formation/exhumation of ultra-high pressure metamorphic rocks, providing new constraints to develop the conceptual and quantitative understanding of continentalsubduction dynamics.