EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Opening and closure of Iranian back-arc basins: A seismic tomography view

Nalan Lom1, Abdul Qayyum1, Derya Gürer2, Douwe G. van der Meer1,3, Wim Spakman1,4, and Douwe J.J. van Hinsbergen1
Nalan Lom et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands (
  • 2University of Queensland, Faculty of Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, St Lucia, Australia
  • 3New Ventures Latin America, CNOOC International
  • 4Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Iran is a mosaic of continental blocks that are surrounded by Tethyan oceanic relics. Remnants of these oceanic rock assemblages are exposed around the Central Iranian Microcontinent (CIM), discretely along the Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone and in Jaz-Murian. The ophiolite belts surrounding the CIM are mainly assumed to represent narrow back-arc basins that opened in Cretaceous and closed before the Eocene. Although these ophiolites are exposed as small pieces on continental crust today, they represent oceans wide enough to form supra-subduction ophiolites and arc-related magmatic rocks which suggest that their palaeogeographic width was at least some hundreds of kilometers. Current models for the palaeogeographic dimension, opening and closure of these basins are highly schematic. They usually seem plausible in two-dimensional reconstructions, however a single three-dimensional model explaining whole Iran and its surrounding regions has not been fully accomplished.  This is mostly because while the geological record provides constraints on the origin and ages of the subducted ocean floor, it provides limited information about onset and cessation of the subduction and almost no constraints on the dimension of these oceans and the subduction zones that consumed them.

In this study, we follow a novel approach in estimating the dimension and evolution of these back-arc basin by using seismic tomography. Seismic tomography has revealed that we can image and trace subducted lithosphere relics. Imaged mantle structure is now being used to link sinking slabs with sutures and to define shape of a slab. Systematic comparison of regions where the timing of subduction is reasonably well constrained by geological data showed that slabs sink gradually through the mantle at rates more or less the same. This perspective enabled us to study slab shape as a function of absolute trench motion. While mantle stationary trenches tend to create steep slabs or slab walls, the flat-lying segments are formed where the overlying trenches are mobile relative to the mantle, normal facing during roll-back, overturned during slab advance.  Under the assumption of vertical sinking after break-off, it is also possible to locate the palaeo-trenches.  When combined with absolute plate motion reconstructions, tomographically determined volume and size of the subducted lithosphere can also be used to estimate the size/width of the prehistoric oceans. To this end, we build on and further develop concepts that relate absolute trench motion during subduction to modern slab geometry to evaluate the possible range of dimensions associated with opening and closure of the Iranian back-arc basins.

How to cite: Lom, N., Qayyum, A., Gürer, D., van der Meer, D. G., Spakman, W., and van Hinsbergen, D. J. J.: Opening and closure of Iranian back-arc basins: A seismic tomography view, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-5209,, 2021.