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The Carbonate Veins Documenting the Tectonic Evolution of the South China Sea Continental Margin from Early Cretaceous to Early Cenozoic
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  • Liheng Sun,
  • Zhen Sun,
  • Yunying Zhang,
  • Zhongxian Zhao,
  • Jianxin Zhao,
  • Zhang Zhe,
  • Longtao Sun,
  • Xiaoxi Zhu
Liheng Sun
SCSIO South China Sea Institute of Oceanology

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Zhen Sun
South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Yunying Zhang
The University of Hong Kong
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Zhongxian Zhao
SCSIO South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Acaademy of Sciences
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Jianxin Zhao
University of Queensland
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Zhang Zhe
South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Longtao Sun
SCSIO South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Xiaoxi Zhu
Hohai University
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The transition from active to passive continental margin of the South China Sea (SCS) is usually inferred to occur in the Late Mesozoic to Early Cenozoic. However, it is less known about the tectonic characteristics of active continental margins before the Late Mesozoic, which hampers the recognition of integral evolution of the SCS. The International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) site U1504 has sampled greenschist facies mylonite from the basement in the Outer Margin High of the northern SCS continental margin, which potentially record the Mesozoic and Cenozoic tectonic evolution of the SCS region. The microstructure has identified two episodes of deformation in the mylonite, namely early ductile and late brittle deformation, but without age constraints. Here, we further identify three episodes of carbonate veins (pre-mylonite, syn-mylonite and post-mylonite) in the greenschist facies mylonite according to the intersecting relationship between the veins and the mylonite foliation. Then we select 10 carbonate samples for in situ U-Pb dating, and obtain three accurate ages. The pre-mylonite carbonate veins are dated to 210 ± 20 Ma and 195 ± 32 Ma, respectively, which might denote the age of the protolith clast. The age of the syn-mylonite carbonate vein is 135 ± 12 Ma. But for the post-mylonite carbonate veins, no effective age was obtained using U-Pb dating method. Post-mylonite carbonate veins and late brittle fractures were formed at the same time, and the formation environment is similar to the overlying Late Eocene bioclastic limestone. Therefore, combining the microstructure, geochemistry and seismic profile, we speculate that the post-mylonite carbonate veins and brittle fractures may be formed during the Early Cenozoic rifting. These dating ages of the three episodes of carbonate veins suggest that the mylonite records at least two main periods of continental extension in the SCS region since the Early Cretaceous. In reference to the Mesozoic tectonic settings, we infer that, due to the slab rollback of the subducting paleo-Pacific, the SCS continental margin started significant extension during the Early Cretaceous as shown by the ductile deformation of the mylonite. In the Early Cenozoic, the mylonite was exhumated to the seafloor along with further continental extension, and weak brittle deformation occurred in the mylonite. Therefore, the Early Cretaceous extension of the SCS active continental margin may have a certain promotion effect on the rupture of the passive continental margin in the Cenozoic. Keywords: Greenschist facies mylonite; Carbonate U-Pb dating; Continental margin of the SCS; Early Cretaceous; IODP 368